The Labor Movement, Obama's Friend or Foe in November?

The AFL-CIO, a stalwart Democratic ally, is gearing up its forces for battle in November to steadfastly support President Obama's agenda, but it's a feat that may take some doing.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, ever mindful of the differences his union has had with the White House over issues like health care reform, told his organization's leaders and political organizers Tuesday that though progress may be plodding, the labor lobby is slowly getting what they want from this White House. "We need to tell our union brothers and sisters: We know you're angry. We know you're frustrated. We know we haven't achieved everything we worked for. But we've made progress and we have to keep it going." But in a nation with a pernicious unemployment problem and some union members directly affected, that may be a difficult case to make. Never mind the fact that Republicans remind voters daily that they feel the jobless problem is worsening at the hands of Mr. Obama himself. House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio says, "The fact is the president's policies are killing job creation in America, killing our economy, and the American people know it... Let's stop this stimulus spending that all it's doing is running up debt on the back of our kids and grandkids, and make sure they're not going to increase taxes at a time when our economy is so weak."

Trumka is trying to steer his members away from that line of thinking and he's using the president's own political philosophy to push the cause, "Sisters and brothers, in just three months, there's going to be an election with an historic choice-a choice between the clean-up crew and the wrecking crew. Will America go back to the Bush years-with rising unemployment, shrinking wages, disappearing health care and dwindling retirement savings? Or will we move forward to a future where we generate jobs that pay middle-class wages and produce world-class products and services?"

Mr. Obama himself has banked on the success of the "look forward, not backwards" approach of late, breaking it out again at a DNC fundraiser Monday. "The choice is whether we want to go forward or we want to go backwards to the same policies that got us into this mess in the first place," the president told the Atlanta gathering. "[W]hen you get in your car, when you go forward, what do you do? You put it in 'D.' When you want to go back, what do you do? You put it in 'R.'"

President Obama has seen a lot of his labor base lately. Last month, Trumka was there when the president delivered an immigration speech at American University. Just days ago, the president met with labor leaders at GM's Hamtramck, Michigan Assembly Center. He told union leaders and workers that he's working hard on issue number one, but it's a work in progress. "We've added private sector jobs for six months in a row, but there's still too many folks unemployed," the president admitted. "There are a lot of folks in the auto industry who haven't been hired back. We're still going to have to do a lot of work to put folks back to work." He may make the same argument on Wednesday when he addresses the AFL-CIO Executive Committee at its meeting in Washington.

Convincing union rank and file to fully back Democrats in November may be a tough sell, but it's one Trumka is betting on. "We've all come back from contract negotiations where we didn't get everything that we wanted, but we made great gains," he told his brass Tuesday. "And we can say the same about President Obama's first year-and-a-half."