Posted on February 11, 2011 by Lou
Barack Obama’s recent speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce prompted some union activists to insist that the labor movement denounce the president.
But AFL-CIO chief Rich Trumka did not use that event to contrast the president’s preference for the corporate agenda over the union agenda.
Maybe there was an understanding between Trumka and the white house to let Obama have his day with the business community.
Most veterans of the labor movement recognize the dance between union leaders and elected officials. Despite the pervasive sentiment within organized labor that President Obama has let us down, he is an ally.
While most Americans wouldn’t be able to pick Rich Trumka out of a crowd, the former head of the mineworkers union has been well-known in union circles for many years, having cut his teeth in the brutal Pittston Coal strike 20 years ago. A lawyer with deep mining-family roots, Trumka was number-two man during John Sweeney’s tenure and took over when Sweeney stepped down in September, 2009.
Trumka can be fairly articulate on the media circuit, reaching out to the vast pool of nonunion American wage earners (and the unemployed). But there are no real expectation right now that any national labor leader can re-ignite broad working-class interest in unionization.
It’s definitely fair game for progressives to try to pressure the AFL-CIO to “take a stand” against corporate “abuse, exploitation and greed,” but we also recognize the limited value of our rhetoric.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that organized labor’s battles are not worth the fight. But the hope that the Obama era would be resurgent for unions has obviously not come to pass.
We will – as always – play a key role in the 2012 election. And, if we help win that one for the democrats, don’t be surprised if the newly reelected president strolls over to the AFL-CIO building for a chat.
It’s the least – and I do mean the least – we can expect.