Labor's Last Chance
A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford
"The strength of Obama's commitment to the Employee Free Choice Act is uncertain."
The corporate world isn't freeing up much capital for productive investment in the economy, but big business is putting plenty of cash behind its campaign to defeat the Employee Free Choice Act. The bill would make it far easier to organize workers into unions, requiring only that a majority of employees sign a card saying they want a union. Barack Obama is on record as favoring the Employee Free Choice Act, but the strength of his commitment is uncertain. There is every reason to question whether Obama's people are as determined to push through the bill, as big business is to defeat or sidetrack it. On economic policy, Obama's administration is heavily weighted in favor of capital, as was his campaign team. The Employee Free Choice Act passed the U.S. House, last year, but was bottled up in the Senate. The Democrats don't have the 60 votes necessary to shut down a Republican filibuster, and can't even count on every Democratic senator. That means passage will require a full court press by the Obama team, with plenty of arm-twisting and full deployment of the presidential bully pulpit
The likelihood is that much of Obama's inner circle - top-heavy as it is with bankers - will counsel that he refrain from throwing the full weight of his presidency behind the union organizing bill, and that, in a pinch, the measure be put off until some future, more propitious moment. When this happens, and I believe it will, it will be up to organized labor to either roll over and continue on its slow journey to the grave, or force the issue by bringing hundreds of thousands of bodies to Capitol Hill.
"What must emerge from the current crisis is a new relationship of political forces."
If we have learned anything these last several years about Barack Obama, it is that he tends to take the path of least resistance. Corporate America is preparing to mount fierce resistance to the Employee Free Choice Act, and unless Obama is convinced that labor will go to the barricades for the bill's passage, he will do everything possible to avoid confrontation with Big Capital. Labor must be ready to buck and, if necessary, embarrass the president they did so much to elect, or lose the opportunity to save itself from oblivion.
It has recently become fashionable among corporate pundits to question how effective President Franklin Roosevelt's economic policies were in raising the nation out of the Great Depression. But the success of the New Deal should not be measured simply in terms of unemployment levels and other economic indicators. The United States became a different and better country in the 1930s largely because the New Deal made it less difficult to form unions. Working men and women were finally enabled to effectively counter the power of capital. What must emerge from the current crisis is a new relationship of political forces. The financial collapse has knocked the bankers to their knees, economically, but they remain on top, politically, including within the Obama administration. Obama will make almost any compromise to keep peace with corporate America. But for labor, the Employee Free Choice Act must not be negotiable.
For Black Agenda Radio, I'm Glen Ford.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected].