Politico’s Joseph Williams sallies forth with a story titled “Labor’s lost love for Obama returns,” a perfect example of how political reporters miss the big questions by trying to fit labor into the standard narratives of political reporting. You see, “After three years of spats, President Barack Obama and the unions have embraced each other again” and “The AFL-CIO became the latest major union to support Obama’s reelection when it endorsed him this week.” (The AFL-CIO, of course, is not a union. It is a federation of unions.) So the story as Politico tells it is unions loved Obama in 2008, then got mad, but then he started talking about jobs and now they just love him again, no questions asked. Why did they get mad in 2009 and 2010? Things like this:
The White House’s failure to communicate its position angered the unions, [a former government official who worked closely with the White House on labor issues] said, but the administration thought defeat on the EFCA was a foregone conclusion.
“Organized labor had the sense EFCA was going to get done,” the former White House aide said. “We thought we’d already lost that fight.”
The thing is, if organized labor “had the sense” the Employee Free Choice Act was on the agenda, it’s because people in the Obama administration told union leaders that was the case. One can question the decision by union leaders to believe the Obama administration on that, particularly as the claim that this union priority would become an administration priority immediately after health care reform was being made at the same time environmental leaders were apparently being told an energy bill would be the next priority. But it’s not like union leaders just decided, on their own, to believe that the White House would support EFCA even as people in the administration were flatly telling them otherwise.
But, according to Politico’s 2012 election narrative, Obama gave some pro-union speeches and pushed some jobs legislation and poof, unions were uncritically back on his side.
And, okay, yeah, maybe the stark comparison between the fierce anti-union positions of the Republican presidential candidates and Obama’s theoretical, if not usually fiercely fought, support for union rights has something to do with it. Maybe it’s that, in the words of American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, “Elections are choices. They’re not referendums.” But either way, to hear Politico tell it, 2012 will be 2008 all over again as far as union support for Obama goes.
In fact, the AFL-CIO at least has made a serious point that it will not be campaigning for Obama in 2012 and then relaxing, relying on him to push through the legislation unions care about. Instead, the labor federation will be working in 2012 to prepare union members to keep campaigning, after the elections, for a pro-worker agenda. That’s a significant shift and one that speaks to the clear view that while a second Obama term is necessary if unions and non-union workers alike are not going to be completely trampled starting in 2013, a second Obama term without a strong progressive movement in the interests of working people is in no way sufficient to end the dominance of the top 1 percent.