WASHINGTON (PAI)–The election, the election, the election…and the economy.
Or maybe, by the end of the year, it was: The economy, the economy, the economy and the election. Or, actually, it was both.
As reflected in the headlines of the year in Press Associates Union News Service, the economy and the election became increasingly intertwined. The very first headline in the first issue of January was a steep jump in joblessness, to 5 percent. And after that, things only got worse. Against that background, the campaign revved up.
Unemployment increased to 6.7 percent in November, financial institutions imploded, Congress passed a $700 billion bailout for banks, with unions demanding — unsuccessfully — that money be allotted to help individual workers and families who were losing mortgages, homes and jobs. It also approved a stimulus package in February that gave every taxpayer a one-time check, and by the end of the year was considering a much bigger package that would include more jobless benefits, spending to rebuild the nation’s roads, bridges, schools and airports, and much more.
Also by year’s end, two of the nation’s three domestic auto firms — GM and Chrysler — were teetering on the brink of collapse, thanks to the nationwide credit crunch, as the bankers took the government’s billions and sat on them.
The financial crash dovetailed with the campaign. Unionists spent the first part of the year sorting out which Democratic hopeful to back. Four drew support: Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) — who ultimately won the nomination and the endorsement of first, Change To Win and, later, the AFL-CIO — Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.). Three others did not.
Once it became clear Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) would be the GOP nominee to succeed anti-worker GOP President George W. Bush, unionists launched a “McCain Revealed” campaign to spotlight his anti-worker voting record and his plans to continue the Bush regime’s anti-labor policies. An anti-Bush bus toured the country.
When Obama won the Democratic nod, union leaders faced a second need: To convince the many unionists who voted for Clinton — or who had never had a chance to even consider an African-American for any office at all — to back Obama. Labor hit the campaign trail, hard: 250,000 volunteers, millions of home visits, site visits, leaflets.
Both campaigns worked, aided by the economic maelstrom that hit in September: Failing mortgages, collapsing banks, rising joblessness, unpopular bailouts, and all. At the beginning of that month, McCain and Obama were tied in the polls. Obama won in November, 53 percent -47 percent. Among unionists, Obama won 67 percent -30 percent. And among the few unionists who considered race among their top factors in their vote, he won 3-to-1.
There were other key developments. Some were: Union membership increased by 311,000 in 2007, the first substantial jump in years. Senate GOP filibusters killed key pro-worker legislation, notably the Lilly Ledbetter Equal Pay Act — to restore workers’ rights to sue employers for sexual pay discrimination — and a $14 billion rescue package for the auto firms. The Employee Free Choice Act was delayed till next year. With Overnite Transportation now part of unionized UPS, the Teamsters signed up more than 10,000 of its workers. Bush’s DOT let anti-union Delta Airlines devour wall-to-wall-union Northwest. 2008 ended with a sit-down strike success in Chicago.
But the top stories overall were a big labor win in the election, with Obama beating McCain, at least seven more Senate Democrats and a bigger pro-worker House majority — and the economic crash the Illinoisan will inherit from Bush on Jan. 20.