We should have learned some lessons from the 2008 presidential elections, but apparently many unions did not. On the positive side, we defeated the Republican Party, an important victory. It would have been disastrous if the Republicans had gained control of the White House and both chambers of Congress.
But what did we actually win for the millions of dollars we spent and the army of volunteers we supplied to win the presidency for Barack Obama? We got next to nothing. Promises made to the unions were dismissed, once the election was over. Let's look at the record:
AFL-CIO and its affiliates did not get the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) legislation that President Obama had promised to enact early in his administration at the urgent request of the labor movement..
Obama would not consider significant changes in his Health Care Act that unions suggested to strengthen its protective features. In negotiations with Republican Speaker John Boehner, he made concessions to the insurance industry.
The President's promises to press for a minimum wage of $9.50 an hour was soon forgotten, under pressure from the business community, especially fast-food and other retail chains.
Legislation for paid sick-leave, long available in dozens of countries around the world, was not enacted in the United States.
The Obama administration continued to support the outsourcing of good American jobs to low-wage countries. It negotiated Free Trade Agreements (FTA) with South Korea, Colombia Panama and other countries, despite strong opposition from the labor movement.
How Can Labor Get Better Results in 2012 Elections?
In the 2012 elections, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win must use all their resources to defeat the Republican presidential candidate, whoever he may be. This is the defensive, high-priority part of labor's campaign.
But if they expect to win benefits, the unions must depend on their own strength, not on the promises of the Democrats and the White House. The hundreds of millions of dollars that unions will be spending in the 2012 elections must also be used to build an independent voice for labor that will speak for working people and their families.
What is a realistic list of demands that unions should be developing for the 2012 elections and for the future? Top labor leaders have not yet come up with an agenda on which to mobilize the millions of union members. That is still for debate within the labor movement.