Labor leaders hail Obama speech, call for more action on jobs

The nation’s union leaders, while endorsing the president’s April 15 speech on the budget deficit, say job creation is among several major things that will need to be addressed if the long-term fiscal health of the nation is to be restored.

The Obama plan would cut $4 trillion in projected deficits over the next 12 years, less than the $6 trillion proposal by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis.  AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka dubbed the Ryan plan a “fraud.”

A major difference between the two plans is that the Republicans want to permanently extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich at a cost of $4trillion over the next decade, something Obama vowed never to allow.

Trumka gave his strongest praise to the president’s promises to end those tax cuts, to protect Social Security and to veto any plan that turns Medicare into a voucher program or Medicaid into block grants under the control of the states.

“President Obama gave a promise to working people that he wouldn’t allow us to go down the path set out by the radical Republican right,” said Trumka, “a path that leads to more lost jobs and a decline in our national standards.”

The president of the nation’s largest labor federation also said “the president understands why Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid are so important. We oppose cuts to any of these critical programs, no matter who proposes them.”

Trumka said, however, that only massive job creation can solve the budget deficit over the long haul. “Let us refocus our national energy on job creation – because successful job creation is the key to making long-term deficit reduction both easier and more politically achievable.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a phone interview that she thought the president’s speech was important “because it steered the debate away from an assault on the middle class and the poor, and toward shared responsibility.” She said her reading of the speech was that it was calling for “critical investments to strengthen our nation.”

None of this is to say that union leaders don’t have their differences with the administration. Some of those surfaced at an AFL-CIO executive council meeting earlier this week and others in phone interviews on April 14 and 15. Although unions see the president as an ally, they are not necessarily always happy with everything the administration does.

The Firefighters expressed at the labor meeting this week that they thought they had won a victory recently by convincing even Republicans in the House to support funding for additional firefighter training and hiring. They feel the president and Democratic leaders gave that win away in last minute bargaining over a budget deal to keep the government running.

Leaders of some unions expressed concern about the Administration’s decision to push ahead with the current version of the U.S. – Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Although the current version commits Colombia to pursuing the murderers of 2,900 union activists over the last 25 years, it includes no timetable or mechanism for doing so. American unions want those provisions.

The Machinists expressed concerns that the Administration should be doing more for the unemployed. They are also unhappy about a Department of Defense announcement this week that it is cutting back on its Joint Strike Fighter program, a program that provides machinist union jobs in Connecticut, Florida and Texas.

The National Nurses Union warned that it would campaign against any lawmaker, Democrats included, who votes to cut Social Security in any way.

Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America, pointed out, however, “More than 90 percent of the discussion at our meetings was not about problems with the president or the Democrats but about making a unified fight against the Ryan budget.” Cohen singled out the Republican plans to destroy or gut Medicare, slash education aid and slash job training. “The other 10 percent of the discussion,” Cohen said, “was really not about opposition to the president but about labor’s approach to how Democrats and progressives should organize to fight what the Republicans want to do.”

Photo: Obama outlines his budget reduction plan April 15, via White House news service.


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.