Labor supports president’s vision but warns of challenges

The labor movement is reacting positively to the vision of the future put forward by President Obama in his State of the Union speech, particularly his calls for job creation, strengthening of the middle class and rebuilding the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

“We strongly support the President’s vision on infrastructure to create good jobs and succeed in a global economy, and working people are ready to work with him and hold him to his promises,” declared Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, the country’s largest labor federation.

“The president and Congress must act now or millions of Americans could lose their jobs in the months ahead,” said Gerald McEntee, President of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “To this point, the president reminded the Democrats of their obligation to lead and served notice to Republicans that ‘just say no’ is not an option.”

“We are thrilled to see President Obama embrace an argument we have been making for years,” declared the Laborers’ President Terry O’Sullivan. “Building America’s roads, bridges, rails and runways is not only our best option for getting people working again, but also is essential to America’s long-term future. If we do not address our ailing basics and outbuild other nations, we cannot compete economically.”

Labor reaction to the President’s emphasis on the need for a strong government role in fixing the economy was also positive.

“We agree that federal action is needed to keep our economy from slipping back into the ditch,” said McEntee. “AFSCME will fight for investment in vital public services which must be part of federal jobs legislation.”

“We firmly believe that we should not be cutting government spending when the economy is so weak,” said Trumka. “The economy is failing to create jobs at an adequate pace to dig us out of the hole we’re in, and a spending freeze at this time will slow down job creation and growth – further worsening the deficit.

There is already evidence that emphasis on investment, innovation and infrastructure are resonating with large numbers of voters.

Pollster Stan Greenburg found that after Obama delivered his speech, GOP-leaning swing voters were among those who gave Obama positive assessments on each of the three themes he emphasized.

Greenberg noted that voters were saying ‘the future belongs to the people who make the what and the how.” According to the Greenberg poll President Obama’s overall job approval among GOP-leaning swing voters jumped by 26 points after his speech.

Politico said the speech was designed to pressure the GOP to cough up specifics on how it would deal with the economy. “It was laced with meaty proposals designed to smoke out the GOP – to force Republicans to reveal plans of their own. Obama threw down the gauntlet on several monster issues that are likely to be furiously fought, and have lobbyists licking their chops.”

While the labor movement was positive about the speech, it intends to keep the pressure on both Congress and the president.

“We need to know how the broad vision President Obama outlined last night will become a concrete plan to strengthen the government’s role in creating fairness in our economy,” said Amy Dean, the well known labor writer and journalist.

While Trumka was strong in his praise for the president for “understanding our need to be competitive in manufacturing, new technology and skills,” the labor leader also said that Obama “must also understand that last-century trade deals that reward and encourage corporations that outsource American jobs will do little to generate new jobs in the United States or raise living standards here or abroad.”

Trumka said there is a need to “move boldly” to put 15 million Americans back to work and rebuild bargaining power and good jobs for our middle class. We believe the President is headed in the right direction,” he said, “but as he outlined tonight, the yardstick must be the health of the middle class and the American economy.”



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.