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Victorious Labor: Celebrations Before the Storm?





Image: Florida New Majority

Analysis of swing-state voting in last week’s election demonstrates that the massive on-the-ground mobilization of union members and volunteers directly aided Obama and other pro-labor candidates in carrying Ohio, Nevada and Wisconsin. Unions prevailed in beating back anti-labor legislation in California and Wisconsin, and succeeded in three separate living wage campaigns.

On the national level, will labor remain vigilant and hold Obama and other newly elected Democrats accountable to workers? AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka vows that this will be the case.

In an interview with Salon, Trumka is quoted as saying:

“One thing that we’re doing different than we’ve ever done before … is we’re not dismantling our program today.” Instead, he promised, it will move “from electoral politics to advocacy, and from advocacy to accountability.”

As an example of the continuing momentum for labor advocates, Trumka points to Ohio, where “AFL-CIO members are 83 percent white. 40 percent are evangelicals, and 53 percent own guns. … [a]nd they voted 70 percent for Barack Obama.” The Midwest state, where one in five workers belong to or live with someone in a union, witnessed a demonstration of labor’s power when the anti-collective bargaining Senate Bill No. 5 was overturned last year. In addition, Ohio’s heavy reliance on the auto industry tied Obama’s success to the majority approval of the auto bailout.

In the same way, Trumka, the AFL-CIO and unions hope to keep the rank and file engaged after the big win last Tuesday. Short-term priorities for labor are preventing Obama from a “Grand Bargain,” in which Social Security and Medicare benefits would be cut in light of the approaching fiscal cliff. In keeping with Trumka’s pledge for steadfast advocacy, the AFL-CIO held over 100 rallies discouraging the Grand Bargain approach last Thursday. Unions are also advocating for higher taxes on wealthy Americans.

The Associated Press reports on upcoming Department of Labor regulations that could aid unions going forward:

A new rule expected from the Department of Labor would force companies to reveal relationships with so-called union-busting consulting companies even if the companies have no contact with workers. The National Labor Relations Board is expected to start work on a rule that would force businesses to turn over workers’ phone numbers, emails and shift times to union organizers.

Many union members felt that Obama did not back the failed Employee Free Choice Act legislation sufficiently. Trumka comments on the possibility of a do-over:

“We’re going to work to make sure that those broken labor laws get fixed,” said Trumka, “because when workers have a voice on a job, it improves their lives, and it improves the economy as a whole.” Does that mean EFCA? “I’m not going to say the Employee Free Choice Act,” said Trumka. “But something that is comprehensive, that fixes the nation’s broken labor laws…. Right now, they fire a worker for union activity, and it costs them nothing.”

In the Salon piece Trumka noted that the strategy going forward would be to continue to push pro-worker legislation (and vice versa — punish anti-worker legislation), and reward or punish candidates with labor’s confirmed strength at the polls. Asked if their support is prone to partisan dogma, Trumka did not mince words:

“See what we do. See if we aren’t independent. Whenever something’s good for workers, we’ll support it … If it’s bad for workers, it doesn’t matter to us who proposes it. We won’t be on board. We won’t be taken for granted.”

Matthew McDermott is a Unionosity editorial assistant and outreach coordinator. His post is republished with permission.

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