Labor Slowly Moves Into Opposition Posture

by: David Sirota

Wed May 20, 2009 at 07:33

Here's what we know when it comes to trade:

- President Obama campaigned on a promise to substantially change America's trade policies and move us off of the failed NAFTA trade model.

- Labor unions took that promise seriously, and therefore spent millions of dollars of workers' hard-earned wages to help elect President Obama.

- Obama's U.S. Trade Representative now says he is looking to pass Bush-negotiated, NAFTA-style trade deals with Panama, Colombia and South Korea. While he says he wants some tweaks to these deals, they are still the NAFTA model.

- Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, is still giving speeches publicly bragging that he helped pass NAFTA.

- Thanks in large part to the NAFTA trade model, taxpayer funded bailouts of key industries could end up subsidizing the offshoring of American jobs.

Now, after all of this, we're finally getting a proper reaction from labor leaders in Washington, D.C.:

AFL-CIO Takes Aim at Obama's Plans to Push Free-Trade Deals

May 19 (Bloomberg) -- The leader of the biggest U.S. labor federation said he saw no reason to advance a free-trade agreement with Panama and vowed to defeat a separate accord with Colombia.

"We don't think there is any reason to rush it through Congress," John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, said in an interview today. Unions may be "forced into opposing the trade agreements."

Sweeney goes on to say of Obama, "I trust him," which suggests just how cautious labor leaders are being in dealing with the White House. They don't want to have to go into full-on opposition mode, and I can't say I blame them for the desire - but I will blame them if they don't put up a fight. We learned in the original battle over NAFTA that Democratic presidents often have zero problem running "over the dead bodies" of workers in order to pass corporate-written trade deals.

Fool us once, shame on you...

David Sirota :: Labor Slowly Moves Into Opposition Posture

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Nothing to lose in opposition (4.00 / 3)
Only a tiny minority of very wealthy, golf-playing old white men and a few power-worshipping intellectuals supports the NAFTA-styled attacks on working people. There is no danger of losing any election on this issue. On the other side, there is nothing to gain by deferring to Obama's imagined good intentions. Labor should act as powerful as it really is on these issues of trade, and for once refuse to consent to its own degradation.

Big time media (4.00 / 2)
Big time media (newspapers and TV in particular) is 100% in the corner of NAFTA and "free" trade.  Some politicians worship at that altar.  I'd hardly call many of those "reporters" and columnists intellectuals.

[ Parent ]
President Bait & Switch (4.00 / 2)
strikes again.

fool me twice.... (0.00 / 0)
and...uh... if fooled can't get fooled again.

Our Dime Understanding the U.S. Budget

Re: Labor moving into "opposition," (4.00 / 5)
I'll believe when I see it.

Upper levels of the labor hierarchy are institutionally connected to as well as ideologically and often socially invested in what Paul R. would describe as "hegemonic" conventional wisdom.  Seriously challenging any of this would deny them their seat at the table-such as it is-and ultimately their establishment perks, access to mainstream media, not to mention their relatively massive salaries (not compared to CEOs of course, but the rank and file they claim to represent).

For good background on this-and for an a priori explanation for why the opposition David describes here will not materialize-I'd recommend a quick read of Robert Fitch's Solidarity for Sale, a critique of organized labor coming from the left-a critique which few on the left wanted to deal with when it came out a few years ago.

Bottom line: If serious working class opposition emerges, it won't come from within the ranks of organized (read co-opted) labor.  It will come from organizing the huge numbers of unorganized.

John Halle has a very good comment. Taking it further...prepare for the new fascism (4.00 / 1)
John Halle has a very good comment, i think.

What's happening on the Presidential also happening at the local levels in business and politics.

Union leaders are apparently securing their PERSONAL positions by spinning their actions to sound as if they are WITH the people under them, while actually allying themselves with more powerful organized forces above them.

Obama has sided with the Defense industry, the insurance and financial industries in almost every case.

He is a seamless transition to the continuation of Bush's policies which are patently self destructive for EVERYONE, ...BUUUT...yeild an IMMEDIATE PROFIT for the above mentioned power groups.

There is no future. No one in business or government is thinking about that.
THey are entirely Predatory and without conscience.

I see Bush and Obama as exactly the same. The Unions chiefs and the Businesses whose workers they represent are indistinguishable.

Everything is merged. The differences are verbal. The actions are in unison.

I said this would happen years ago and I keep saying it. Obama is quite simply a fascist. He promotes State Control as Bush did. Wars for the purpose of subjugating people to American will. Torture...they are torturing prisoners in Guantanmo as we speak according to Jeremy Scahill on yesterdays Democracy now.

We are not free anymore...we just imagine it. We are living in a fascist nation who exports fascism and is in the process of developing it locally. The minute that people begin to will see the States subjugate them brutually. People will be tortured and imprisoned here in America.

It seems obvious that this is coming. It also seems obvious that people will not believe that until it happens.

Why wouldn't it? Are you not shocked by what's happened already?

[ Parent ]
I doubt labor really (4.00 / 2)
took Obama's promises on trade seriously.

I am glad the AFL-CIO is speaking up.  If Obama wishes to rip the Party apart, he'll take this approach on trade.  That would be a terrible mistake.  Like Clinton and NAFTA.

If unions choose to stay home, the Dems will be in big trouble.  And if the Dems turn their backs on unions, the possibility of a true thrid party becomes real.  

I don't think Obama will do this.  Some pushback in Congress should end this.

On the other hand, Dems often seek to destroy themsleves.

Labor's House continues to be divided (0.00 / 0)
That continues to be the #1 issue in forming any strong labor opposition to trade and bank-centric finacial reform.

Obama was very clear to David Bonior last fall after the election was over -- he wanted to deal with a single labor entity.  There was some movement towards unity, but it stalled when the majority of unions balked at putting the SEIU leadership in place as leaders in a new federation or as the point in negotiations with the administration.

Then you have the Unite HERE split, CWA's internal divisions, the split from SEIU by United Healthcare Workers West and you have a very divided and somewhat chaotic labor movement.

That has to change if progress is to be made.  


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