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With Barack Obama’s reelection last night, we witnessed the labor movement once again, as in every successful Democratic presidential race in recent decades, saving the president. Its ground troops and financial backing provided the bulwark to shore up Obama’s lead against Romney. By aiding in Obama's victory, unions helped avert the crisis that the election of Romney/Ryan would have represented—an attack not only on organized labor, but on women's rights and the whole of the social safety net.

But what, in terms of a positive agenda, should working people expect that's different from when President Obama was first elected? After the election of the last two Democratic presidents, organized labor had a clear legislative priority to hand to the successful candidate—the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) in the case of Obama’s first term, and a proposed ban on striker replacement in the case of President Clinton. In both cases, labor waited for the White House to lead on those issues, and that never happened. Neither EFCA nor the striker replacement ban came to pass.

This time around, labor does not have a single marquee piece of legislation that it is rallying around. We already know that any worker-friendly legislation that the White House advances will certainly face a blockade from Congressional Republicans. But that's no excuse for the president to neglect using the bully pulpit to stand in defense of the rights of working people.

This is not a question of transactional politics. It's not an issue of President Obama showing appreciation to labor for helping with his reelection. The need to revive the right to collective bargaining is important for a far more fundamental reason: without strengthening the ability of workers to negotiate for living-wage jobs, President Obama's vows to restore the American middle class have little chance of being fulfilled.

Voters affirmed that the message presented by the Obama campaign was correct: the administration had inherited an economic mess, and under Obama's presidency we have begun a recovery; it’s not moving fast enough, but the administration has put us on the right path. A Republican win would have destroyed any hope of achieving a true recovery for the 99 percent.

While that message is valid, Obama hasn't provided an answer for how to make sure that new jobs that are being created in the economy are good jobs. In fact, the evidence is that the preponderance of jobs being created in the recovery do not support a middle-class standard of living. The National Employment Law Project's report from August of this year, entitled The Low Wage Recovery and Growing Inequality, found that, during the recession, low-wage jobs grew 2.7 times as fast as middle- and high-wage jobs together. A total of 58 percent of the jobs created were low-wage jobs.

It’s not just the latest recession that has resulted in the loss of good jobs: the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) published a report in July that estimated that, since 1979, the economy has lost about one-third (28 to 38 percent) of its capacity to generate good jobs. One look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ list of the top thirty fastest-growing occupations bears out CEPR’s observation: a majority of the jobs listed pay less than $50,000 per year.

In the end, the only path to making new jobs into good jobs is to restore and support workers’ collective bargaining rights.

The reason our country has so often gotten itself into the position of being stuck in low-wage recoveries is that no president has taken on the issue of making the right to bargain collectively legal again in this country. If Obama does not address this in his second term, his administration will continue to watch the majority of Americans experience economic hardship.

The key issue for the president's second term will be whether he understands that the health of our democracy has depended on having an enfranchised middle class, something that was built through collective bargaining and cannot be restored in its absence. If President Obama fails to recognize the stakes, the stated goals of his economic agenda—the creation of good jobs and the rescue of the American middle class—will be perpetually out of reach.

Four years ago, candidate Obama made a commitment to stand shoulder to shoulder with working people if their rights were ever threatened. That time has come. America's working and middle class is in a fight for its life. The only question that remains in Obama's second term, given that legislative remedies are not available, is whether America will see the president send a message by walking the picket lines and being an unabashed public spokesperson for workers' rights.

Originally posted at The Century Foundation.

Originally posted to amybdean on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 02:31 PM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions.

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Comment Preferences

  •  There are battles going on in both parties. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sebastianguy99, Sunspots

    Among the Rs, there's a battle among the crazies and the sane that the crazies are likely to win in my view.

    Among the Rs, there's battle among DLC Dems like former PA gov Rendell who are counseling giving the plutocrats what they want.  He even said today that now that Obama has won, he can ignore the "base" and sell them out.

    It was a lot of fun watching Romney lose, but the reality of what the Ds are really about is likely to be disappointing.

  •  I think a lot of people are going to disappointed (2+ / 1-)
    Recommended by:
    Sunspots, jec
    Hidden by:

    yet again as the fantasy never matches reality.

    Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

    Progressive Candidate Obama (now - Nov 6, 2012)
    Bipartisan Obama returns (Nov 7, 2012)

    by The Dead Man on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 02:41:48 PM PST

    •  Not me. My only expectations for this term are do (0+ / 0-)

      no harm. And unless we start pushing tomorrow I have no doubt that the President will be dealing away some hard fought entitlements.

      •  have you ever thought of pushing republicans (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        hillbrook green, Larsstephens

        as hard as you "push" democrats?

        just a thought for ya....

        •  yeah, that would be productive. Thanksk for the (0+ / 0-)


          •  omigod - i hope i am reading this incorrectly. (0+ / 0-)

            it smacks of shades of "code pink" and that woman who went after dave obey while he was holding marathon sessions to defund the war.

            i really hope i misread your comment!

            •  edrie, you have a habit of "misreading" my posts (0+ / 0-)

              have a nice day. good luck with getting these innocuous comments hide rate rated. You've been successful in the past.

              •  um - i really don't know what you're talking (0+ / 0-)

                about.  and you are way off-base about getting posts "hr'd" , my friend.  

                i don't get anything "hr'd" - the community makes its own decisions, i don't wield that much power nor do i want to.

                i really would like to know what you meant - if you are that cynical about pressuring republicans - because it DOES work.

                pressuring those on our own side - those who support us - that doesn't have the same effect unless they are on the fence about a position - then, by all means, call, email, send letters - i do that and will continue to do so.

                my point was that if we aren't pressuring the republicans who might be amenable, we are missing an important element in this equation.

                i'm not looking to fight with you or anyone else on this site - we need to be as united as the right to accomplish the garguantuan task of shifting this nation toward a more progressive nation.  it will take the push of every single one of us pushing wherever we can find movement.


            •  Seems sensible to me (0+ / 0-)

              Only Democratic politicians are going to be responsive to pressure from the Dem base and progressives to preserve entitlements.

              Am I missing something here?

              "I don't cry over milk spilled under bridges. I go make lemonade" - Bucky Katt

              by quill on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 03:57:11 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  i'd like to see us put pressure on republicans to (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                remind them that they lost this election over extreme positions and if they want to continue to have a say in the future of this nation, they, too, need to respond to the pressure of their constituents.

                after all, whether we like it or not, in areas where republicans won, they DO represent both republicans AND democrats - and it is those constituents that need to be the very squeaky wheel and annoy the hell out of THEIR representatives!

                •  me too, but it doesn't work that way for them (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  Most of the Republicans are either too corrupt or too extreme to give a damn what any non-conservative (let alone liberal) has to say, no matter how loud they yell, and/or whether they are constituents.

                  IMO the more effective route for progressives who want to see things change is to ignore the Rs and work to get more real progressives elected (check! but we need to keep it up), and to heavily pressure/lobby centrist Dems who are prone to moving to the right when they get scared about deficits and other RW boogeymen.

                  The extremist Repubs are heading for self destruction, even in their R leaning districts, and we'll be able to pick them off over time, like West, and (almost) Bachmann, but again, we'll probably be wasting our breath trying to talk sense into them.

                  In the near term, with Rs in control of the house, the leadership needs to stay unfailingly tough, claim a mandate, call their bluffs every time, cut the conciliatory crap and never capitulate. Republicans are like dogs: once they establish dominance, they don't listen to anyone and take all the ground they can, but if you can dominate them, they they will back off.

                  So thinks I, anyhow...

                  "I don't cry over milk spilled under bridges. I go make lemonade" - Bucky Katt

                  by quill on Thu Nov 08, 2012 at 12:51:34 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  i don't think we can sway the batsh*t crazies, but (0+ / 0-)

                    there ARE moderate republicans out there - i recall one who just quit because of the extremism of his own party.  

                    those are the ones we need to pressure along with working to get more progressives into office.  i'm glad to see alan grayson succeed so soundly in florida - and i hope more will make it through in the redder states in 2014 - but that will only happen if we have a mulit-front approach!

                    it takes money, organization, boots on the ground and talking "politics" 24/7 - 12 months out of the year.

                    that's how the tea party did it - let's emulate that part and start now to build a stronger base in the redder states.  we were so close in many of the races this time - so those who ran should consider throwing their hats in the ring again in 2014 against another candidate.  they have the advantage of name recognition and two years more to build on that.

                    i really hope to see before i die a democratically controlled government that undoes the damage done from reagan forward.  hell, even nixon did some good things - from reagan on, i can't think of one saving grace!

        •  I've got Republican relatives (0+ / 0-)

          I've had greater success convincing a table that it should let gays marry.

          NOW SHOWING
          Progressive Candidate Obama (now - Nov 6, 2012)
          Bipartisan Obama returns (Nov 7, 2012)

          by The Dead Man on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 03:53:54 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Here's my list. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RIP Russ, quill

    A 2nd stimulus package without the tax cuts.
    Next federal legislation preempting right to work (for less) laws.  Why let them undue labor laws piecemeal.
    Finally, raise the federal minimum wage law and peg it to inflation correct from here out.

    Oh, and lets see that new federal health care option!

  •  U.S. Chamber of Commerce (0+ / 0-)

    Yeah, those guys.  In collusion with GOoPer movers and shakers, they have cajoled their members to refrain from hiring in a vain attempt to affect the outcome of the election.  Businesses want to hire, and are tired of waiting for "a better deal."

    If these guys relent, we could see up 300,000 to 400,000 jobs created per month.

    Everyone is crying out for peace; no one's crying out for justice...

    by mojave mike on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 03:02:34 PM PST

    •  If true, the "job creator" strike may end soon (0+ / 0-)

      I don't know if there's active collusion going on, but if so I can't imagine it continuing for very long, now that Obama's been re-elected and they're looking at 4 years of Dem control of Prez and Senate. I'd bet that as soon as one of them makes a move to hire, they will all have to jump - the prospect of being out-competed and losing money is a powerful inducement.

      "I don't cry over milk spilled under bridges. I go make lemonade" - Bucky Katt

      by quill on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 04:08:01 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Yep, the unemployed strangely missing from the (0+ / 0-)

    ...discussion the day after the election. I'm tired of hearing about the budget deficit and not unemployment as the the most immediate crisis.

    No offense to President Clinton and the brave congresspersons who voted for his budget, but I cannot help but wonder how many of those 23 million jobs were due to the bubble?

    I have read that net job creation over the past 30 years is around 0, if not negative. Somehow I do not see us balancing the budget without fixing the jobs (and wage) crisis.

    "There is nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt. Doubt separates people. It is a poison that disintegrates friendships and breaks up pleasant relations. It is a thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills.".. Buddha

    by sebastianguy99 on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 03:08:50 PM PST

  •  Don't worry. He'll just wave his magic wand.... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    because that's what Presidents do. They wave magic wands and then the Congress just rolls over and says "Sure, whatever you want".

    You are talking about legislation. Guess what? The President doesn't write legislation. The President doesn't pass legislation, either.

    The President only has a choice of either signing legislation or vetoing legislation AFTER IT IS PASSED BY BOTH HOUSES OF CONGRESS!

    I know this comes as a shock to those of you who didn't pay attention in Civics Class or never had a Civics class but unfortunately according to the Constitution of the United States, CONGRESS PASSES LAWS, THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH ENFORCES THE LAWS, AND THE JUDICIAL BRANCH DECIDES THE CONSTITUTIONALITY OF THE LAWS WHICH CONGRESS PASSES.

    And I guess it has never occurred to you that The House of Representatives is controlled by the Republicans who would rather eat dog shit than help out Labor.

    Yes, gee whiz, it would be really nifty if we had a dictator who could issue laws that would protect Labor and stimulate the economy and right all wrongs, but dictators are sort of, well, BANNED in this country by that document called the Constitution.

    The Republicans are not going to roll over and play dead. And we are going to have another four years just like the last four years. Fortunately if the dumb fucks in Congress do nothing, things will continue to slowly improve, just like they have for the last four years.

    Get over it.

    And instead of writing manifestos about how Obama has the power to change the laws and stimulate the economy without Congress and all by himself, maybe you should spend your energy working for a Democratic Congress, both houses, in 2014.

    OK. And now we begin the part of the show where we pull out individual words and phrases of the commenter to try to determine the "real" meaning of the comment.... let the games begin.

    by hillbrook green on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 03:40:16 PM PST

  •  You didn't show a direct connection between (0+ / 0-)

    lack of collective bargaining and prevalence of low wage jobs. Of course, collective bargaining helps. But largely unavoidable shift of manufacturing to other countries is likely more important.

    And given that EFCA won't pass the Republican House there isn't much the President can do about collective bargaining.

  •  Can we have Just 24 hours..... (0+ / 0-)

    before we get frustrated that not everything was accomplished on the day after the election?
    One day to enjoy the victory would be nice.

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