Barack Obama Deals Crippling Blow to Unions, Black Economic Self-Help

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Bruce A. Dixon

The most successful organizations for economic self-help of the last hundred fifty years have been labor unions, and in the US, African Americans have been more likely to form and join unions than any other group. So when President Obama imposed new restrictions on organizing unions, and make it easier for companies to dismiss and disregard union contracts he struck a blow first and hardest against black collective action for economic security.

Barack Obama Deals Crippling Blow to Unions, Black Economic Self-Help

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Bruce A. Dixon

Black people love to talk about economic self-help, about what old Elijah Muhammad used to call “doing for self.” What we don't look at most of the time, is what collective economic self-help actually looks like in the real world. Mostly, it does not look like individual entrepreneurship, everybody starting their own small business.

In the real world, a great portion of the things we use and consume every day from the electric power, transport and communications grids, along with the appliances, vehicles and devices used thereon are produced, delivered and utilized by and through organizations with many hundreds or many thousands of employees. Think about the cable, mass transit and highway systems, the internet and the health care industry. Think government. Think Wal-Mart and McDonalds and you'll be thinking about the places where millions of poor people work. Any black conversation about collective economic self-help that ignores the existing workforce in existing workplaces is a pretend conversation.

In the real world, the most successful collective economic self-help organizations of the last hundred and fifty years have been labor unions. A single 3 day strike by the black led New York City transit workers in 2005 protected the homes, the medical care, retirement security, college educations and living standards of more black families than the half-dozen wealthiest black Americans – that would be Oprah, Puffy, Bob Johnson, Tiger Woods, Bill Cosby and some real estate guy have employed or helped in their entire careers.

In the real world, working people, especially black and brown working people, are eager to help themselves, and the most potent way to do that has been to form and join unions. When offered the chance, black women are the most likely joiners, followed in order by black men, Latino women and men, and finally by white women and men. Why then, has US private sector union membership dipped to around 6% of the workforce? It's not because unions were outmoded or greedy or not in step with the times. It's because increasing corporate domination of US political life has resulted in laws and court decisions which have made most strikes illegal, collective bargaining extremely difficult, and organizing unions in the first place nearly impossible. It's long been illegal, for instance, to fire workers suspected of union activity, but the fines are so small and long delayed that employers routinely violate the law and pay the fines as an inconsequential cost of doing business.

This week President Obama betrayed the collective economic interest of black and working people by signing into law new restrictions on the formation of unions. From now on bosses in many sectors can file anti-union lawsuits and depose under oath workers who sign union cards. Employers can add unpaid ghosts and no-show workers to eligibility lists to prevent union drives from getting a majority of eligible signatures. The same law also makes it easier for corporations to dismiss union recognition and contracts by changing their ownership.

This was no compromise forced upon the president by unreasonable Republicans. This was the unprovoked and naked surrender of our rights to economic self-help, our rights to struggle for a living wage, for dignity and security for all our families by a Trojan Horse black president elected with black and union support, but governing on behalf of his real masters, the lords of capital.

For Black Agenda Radio, I'm Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and lives and works in Marietta GA, where he's on the state committee of the Georgia Green Party.



Union obstacles

Obama might have lent his support to passing the Employees Free Choice Act.  This would have made organizing and joining unions much easier.  But, as on so many issues, he was AWOL.

Union members face restrictions on them when they fight for better contracts.  New York State has the Taylor Law which prohibits public employees from striking.  Other states have enacted similar measures.

The Taft-Hartley Act limits the action of unions and helps employers.  Neither Carter nor Clinton nor Obama offered any modifications to this law to even the playing field in this globalized time when  corporations have all the advantages.

Obama has done nothing to counterbalance the deleterious actions of states that are passing Right to Work laws.  What a great example of  euphemism!  Right to Work, my ass.  Right to work for coolie wages!

My question:  Why the hell would any working person support him?  Because the other guys would be worse?  How?


President Obama is Ivy League and corporatist to his core. Time after time, whenever he makes any decision, he goes out of his way to demonstrate his loyalty to Wallstreet and to its neo-liberal laissez faire agenda.  The same man who immediately ran to the aid of his buddies in the financial sector after they destroyed the economy with a series of blank checks in hand, underwritten by the taxpayers, and without any strings or requirements attached to the money, suddenly took a hard line with the union workers and with the bosses of the auto industries Big Three when they "needed" a bailout, by demanding large concessions from the workers and restructuring of the management.  Like most of his kind, Mr. Obama has no regard for skill sets which exist outside of the world of high finance such as manufacturing,  and he wants labor to remain disorganized and powerless with no legal remedy in the court system. 

More Evidence

Dosa, Obama isn't just AWOL.  He's the active enemy, as is his political party.

Thanks for writing this, Bruce.

Alas, the entire AFLack-CIO continues to shovel money into this death machine, even as they also air those inscrutible TV ads that don't even mention the word "union."