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“It Started With Obama” PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dean Gunderson (MAPE Region 5 Director)   
Sunday, 13 March 2011 17:30

We publish the following article by Dean Gunderson of St. Paul, MN, a loyal member of MAPE who thinks it's high time the unions break with the Democratic Party and build a party that can truly represent U.S. workers: a mass party of Labor. 

In the 2008 election, organized labor spent an estimated $400 million electing Democrats in general and President Obama specifically. SEIU effectively spent into bankruptcy by throwing everything they had into the Obama campaign. SEIU International President Andy Stern knew that without the passage of the Employer Free Choice Act (EFCA), organized labor would continue to lose organizing drive after organizing drive. SEIU was one of the fastest growing international unions, but it had recently experienced setbacks.

So, after President Obama took office, did he keep his promise to introduce EFCA and lobby for its passage? In short, no, he did not. Five minutes after the election, California Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein was one of the first Senators to come out against the passage of EFCA. Other Senate Democrats followed. President Obama then stated it was better to not introduce too many legislative items at once. He focused his first year on reforming health care. The result was a bill that compromised so much, it was a massive gift to insurance and drug companies. Senate and House Republicans didn’t vote for it anyway.

Two years into his term, President Obama announced that he was implementing a two-year wage freeze for all Federal employees. He stated that everyone must share the burden of these bad economic times. Unfortunately, that sentiment did not apply to Wall Street firms such as Goldman Sachs, who in 2010 again gave out again multi-million dollar bonuses to their top executives.

By setting a two year pay freeze, President Obama effectively took a pay freeze off the table as an item that unions could use for negotiating their contracts. Instead of the possibility of trading a pay freeze for better language or benefits, now both public and private employers will be able to take a pay freeze as a given. This move will not only cost federal employees, but also millions of other employees who work under union bargaining agreements.

The midterm election of 2010 was not so much a refutation of the cause of Labor or working people, as a vote against incumbents, including Democrats, who failed to come anywhere close to delivering anything they promised in 2008. How many times did we hear Obama on the campaign trail say that if only we had a Democratic Congress and President, we could have EFCA and much more? What happened to the “hope” and “change” he promised? Given that kind of betrayal by the so-called “friends of Labor” is it any wonder that Republicans were also willing to take on the workers’ movement?

Now we come to Wisconsin 2011. A right-wing governor and a lackey Republican legislature were elected and took office. In the first two weeks of being in office, Gov. Scout Walker announced that part of his budget solving plan was to take away the collective bargaining rights of 175,000 public employees including teachers, nurses and other government workers. This sparked mass demonstrations of hundreds of thousands of citizens around the capitol, a sight not seen in this country since the Great Depression. It has galvanized the entire Labor movement nationally. To give the Wisconsin Senate Democrats their due, they fled the state rather than pass this anti-union legislation. But then again, if they had actually done anything substantial for Labor in the last few decades, let alone the last 2 years, the Republicans may not have made it into office on the back of voter discontent with the Democrats in the first place.

But the question remains: where is President Obama? True, he did make some comments like “it sounds like an attack on unions rather than a solution to the budget problem.” But he has done nothing in practice to help these workers, and like the rest of the Democratic Party leaders, is very worried that what is happening in Wisconsin could spread and get “out of hand.”

I have been a union member for 25 years. I always voted for union-endorsed candidates who always happened to be Democrats. This was until 2008. The minute Barack Obama came out in September 2008 in favor of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout, even before his Republican opponent did, I knew the Democratic Party no longer cared for working people. I cannot blindly work for the Democrats again. The national Democratic Party has thrown overboard the needs of Labor in favor of Wall Street. Look no further than the fact that Obama received more donations from Wall Street than McCain. Millions of dollars more than the Republican is something that working people should not forget. If there’s one thing Wall Street knows, it’s how to hedge its bets and come out ahead no matter what!

Yes, there is a choice between the lesser of two evils, but doesn’t that mean you still end up with evil? We have two capitalist parties in the United States. What we need is a party for working people. Common sense and experience show that supporting Democrats is not going to bring anything different. Labor, both organized and unorganized, has to realize that supporting the Democratic Party is going to get them nothing. In order to be heard, Labor has got to go out on its own. We already have examples of this in the past. And not just unsuccessful examples either.   One only needs to look at North Dakota with its history of the Non-Partisan League, or Minnesota with the Farmer-Labor party to see it can happen here and now. Labor can be listened to again. Working people can have a voice. We can challenge and beat both the Republicans and Democrats at their own game.

If not now, then when?