The last time I saw EFCA [the Employee Free Choice Act] was on the back of a milk carton.--Martin Johns, 5/21/11
Barack Obama and, indeed, the Democratic Party campaigned hard in 2007 and 2008 on the Employee Free Choice Act, legislation designed to level the playing field a tiny bit for the millions of workers in this country who would like to join a union if they could do so without getting fired. Once elected...not so much.
Obama listened to the counsel of a handful of his billionaire financial backers, who told him to brush off his promises to Labor, rather than to the millions of small donors and voters to whom those promises were made. While letting the Republican party do most of his dirty work, Obama as President gave no speeches on EFCA and didn't lift a finger in support. Forbes magazine even praised Obama for his silence. It's actually worse than that, though. When passage of a compromise version of EFCA seemed at hand, Obama and Harry Reid conspired to stop the vote.
Obama allowed NLRB positions to remain vacant for 14 months, leaving Labor at the complete mercy of illegal corporate actions and policies since there were no cops on the beat. Obama and Democrats sold out the Public Option in the healthcare debate, ignoring a line in the sand AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka had drawn. And, by their repeated capitulation to Republican framing that the deficit trumps jobs as the preeminent issue in America, Obama and Democrats have not only turned their backs on Labor, but on the American people as a whole.
Obama has unilaterally instituted a pay freeze for federal workers, applauded the mass firings of teachers in Rhode Island, and, when called upon by circumstances in Wisconsin, Obama flatly refused to honor his very specific pledge to Labor and, instead, offered a few weak-tea remarks of support while his Press Secretary undercut even those by offering, slight grin on his face, that Obama understands the need for belt-tightening and "the serious fiscal situation that the states find themselves in."
With friends like this....
So what is Labor to do? The Republicans are clearly insane--with serfdom, slavery, and indentured servitude as firm planks in their party platform. But the Democrats have not proven to be friends of Labor either.
No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.— Jesus Christ (attributed) (Matthew 6:24)
Even before Citizens United, both political parties had come to serve, first and foremost, at the beck and call of their corporate overlords. How could even the best intentioned politician honestly advance policies that would result in more jobs and higher wages while beholden to those who demand policies that result in fewer jobs and lower wages? In the Forbes piece praising Obama's lack of advocacy for EFCA, Richard Epstein clearly lays out the priority of the wealthy: "much-needed downward adjustments in wages and benefits." That's not the "change" most of us voted for.
In more distant times, the corporate money was (more or less) balanced out by votes and pols would do their best to balance those interests. But the money involved has grown so exponentially that the value of votes has become rather insignificant...especially when business and every politician on both sides of the aisle understand that the game is rigged--heads they win, tails we lose. And then came Citizens United. And then came the all out assault on unions. And, before you know it, America is an unabashed fascist nation.
Trumka next tried pursuing Labor's agenda without the help of the White House when workers in Arkansas demanded their unions primary "The Senator from Wal-Mart", Blanche Lincoln. Among workers' many complaints about corporate Blanche? Her opposition to the Public Option and to EFCA.
While throwing everything behind challenger Bill Halter, Trumka stopped short of criticizing the White House for supporting the incumbent. (Wouldn't want to lose that access.) But Obama's administration was less diplomatic about Labor's interests. An anonymous "senior White House official" derisively told Politico, "Organized labor just flushed $10 million of their members' money down the toilet on a pointless exercise."
I don't know about you, but I've had a snootful of that shit!--AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, June 7, 2011
Trumka began to take note of the Carrot and Stick and he began to wield a stick of his own.
When Obama's appointment of Craig Becker to the NLRB was blocked by Republicans in 2009, Trumka urged a recess appointment. But the President, forever seeking the unicorn of "bipartisanship", rebuffed Labor and opted instead to cut a deal with Senate Republicans. Trumka took out his stick this time, blasting President Obama for leaving "working people out in the cold" and exhorting union members to deluge the White House with calls, letters and emails. It was the first time in Obama's tenure that the AFL-CIO had used such a strategy and, apparently, it worked. Obama granted recess appointments to NLRB nominees Becker and Mark Pierce at the first opportunity following the onslaught.
More recently, Trumka has been declaring Labor's independence from the Democratic party. “Our role is not to build the power of a political party or a candidate. It is to improve the lives of working families and strengthen our country... It doesn’t matter if candidates and parties are controlling the wrecking ball or simply standing aside — the outcome is the same either way. If leaders aren’t blocking the wrecking ball and advancing working families’ interests, working people will not support them.”
But even that is unlikely to be the answer.
Why should unions support a political party that is in the control of corporate interests that the unions were designed to thwart in the first place? How can the unions get better pay and benefits for its workers when the political party they support is controlled by management?--Timothy V. Gatto, countercurrents.org (October 5, 2010)
What is needed is a political party that does not answer to capital, but instead is entirely beholden to the concerns of the American people and working Americans in particular. You won't find such a party in America today. And you're unlikely to find such a party in America ever unless either there is ratified a Constitutional Amendment declaring that corporations are not people and money is not speech or the Labor movement pools its resources and builds a national Labor Party.
The Constitutional option would seem the easier, but the fact is that those in control of the mechanisms of government are so threatened by the idea that you haven't heard either party so much as whisper it. They will never allow it. It is, I believe, better to build a mechanism whole that would, once established, give Americans the political platform from which such an Amendment could be launched.
Make no mistake, any effort to establish a viable political party beyond the Rs and Ds would be difficult and expensive. A party that answers first and foremost to the interests of the American people would be a threat to the oligarchy and to both the parties that serve it. They would undoubtedly unleash the hounds of hell to thwart any attempt to restore representation to the people. Labor's resources are not what they once were, either. But Labor does have resources. And Labor has proven, time and time again, that they can rise to any challenge--Americans can build anything we put our mind to build.
It seems to me it's no longer a matter of choice. Labor must do something dramatic and different--and very soon--as a matter of survival. Not just the survival of Labor, but the survival of America. Or we can just wait for the revolution. But a revolution will only come after decades of hardship and pain for all but the richest 10%.