FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Obama, Labor and Marriage Equality

by MARK VORPAHL

Since President Obama made his very calculated public statement announcing that he was “personally” in favor of same sex marriage, among the many commentators who have rushed to his support have been a significant number of Labor leaders.

Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, stated “Look, I support that position. We support it as the labor movement because of discrimination.” He explained, “There are 1,128 obligations and benefits you get from being married, responsibilities and obligations, as well as some benefits. We think that everybody ought to be treated equally. So it’s marriage equality we’re looking at, and people shouldn’t be discriminated against.”

While many union members likely disagree with Trumka’s stance, support of same sex marriage and all civil rights is the only position that is consistent with the interests of working people as a whole. Though unions are generally focused on better wages, benefits, and working conditions for their membership, they cannot take effective action for these needs without building broad unity among all workers regardless of race, nationality, gender, or sexual orientation. Consequently, since the mass efforts of the LGBT community have galvanized around the issue of marriage equality, the union movement needs to get behind it. For LGBT workers, this issue is as central to their lives as their working conditions. For those workers who are currently opposed to same sex marriage, they need to learn that they are better able to struggle for improvements in their lives if they are united with their gay brothers and sisters. Given the bipartisan attacks against workers, they cannot afford to let their prejudices get in the way.

Nevertheless, the uncritical praise for President Obama’s remarks create the impression that they have been more motivated to getting him re-elected than as commitment to LGBT equality. This is because Obama’s remarks fell far short from the step forward for which they are being touted. In fact, politically they are a step backwards. The President did not say he considered marriage equality a civil right. Moreover, he made it a point of stating that he considered the matter of same sex marriage best decided on a state-by-state basis. This has been the fall back position for every two-faced faker in civil rights’ struggles from the days of slavery and Jim Crow to Roe v. WadeIn other words this means that Obama condones discrimination where bigots have the political upper hand.

President Obama’s advocating of a state-by-state approach towards marriage equality undermines the efforts of those who are fighting for it as a constitutional civil rights issue. Jim Cook, in his article “Barack Obama’s Bullshit Gay Marriage Announcement” explains:

“There are currently at least three cases winding their way toward federal courts that address the issue of whether (among other things) the equal protection clause of the constitution guarantees gay men and women the same access to marriage rights as heterosexual men and women — the Proposition 8 case, in which David Boies and Ted Olson challenged California’s ban on gay marriage, and several challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars gay men and women from receiving federal marriage benefits and allows states to refuse to recognize valid gay marriages. Obama’s Justice Department has admirably declined to defend the constitutionality of DOMA. But the position he enunciated today is in opposition to Boies and Olson: Obama is saying that if he were a judge, he would have rejected Boies and Olson’s constitutional arguments and affirmed the right of Californians to enshrine bigotry in their state constitution.”

Experience has shown that this president’s “support” for progressive measures results in, at best, political inaction. Union leaders certainly must remember Obama’s “support” for the Employee Free Choice Act (card check) and other pro-worker measures he promised during his campaign and dropped once elected. For them to uncritically line up behind Obama’s comments on same sex marriage, without clarifying that they consider it a civil rights issue in opposition to the President’s state-by-state approach, makes them look, at best, foolish, at worst, insincere.

It is perhaps hoped by those moved to uncritical support of Obama’s comments to encourage his “evolution” on same sex marriage towards political action that he currently opposes. However, in the realm of politics, such changes are more determined by the movement of social forces than by personal appeals and clever statesmanship. In other words, the LGBT community and their supporters in Labor must not blunt their struggle for marriage equality in the hope of appealing to the good conscience of corporate politicians and not making too much trouble. They must continue the fight through independent mass action and educating their worker brothers and sisters who currently do not understand the issue of marriage equality.

The best way of educating on a mass level is through common struggle. This was vividly demonstrated in 1974 in a Teamster Local 888 conflict with Coors Brewing Company. After settling a five-month strike, Coors remained the sole distributor that refused to sign the new contract. Local 888 President Allan Baird realized that his union did not have the ability to win on their own without the active support of the LGBT community in San Francisco. He met with Harvey Milk, who was a rising openly gay activist in the city, hoping to get support for a boycott of Coors. Milk’s only condition was that the Teamsters begin to hire openly gay drivers. Baird agreed and the union began to hold true to its promise within a week, beginning a city-wide boycott that lasted three years, uniting the interests of the Teamsters and the San Francisco LGBT working class community.

This struggle demonstrates how workers are educated in mass action about the need to overcome anti-gay prejudices in order to win as a class. It also suggests, in miniature, the approach labor leaders can take today that will strengthen the fight for marriage equality. In 1974 the main issue for the Teamsters was to settle the contract fight with Coors. This lead them to start a form of union-conducted affirmative action in the hiring of openly gay workers. Today, the main issues workers are facing are the need for a real jobs program and the need to stop cuts to such public services as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and education by taxing the rich. If the labor movement conducts such a struggle through mass action, independent of the corporate two party system, the need for unity will become apparent. This will create more fertile ground for winning marriage equality for the LGBT community than any presidential campaign statements.

Mark Vorpahl is an union steward, social justice activist, and writer for Workers’ Action – www.workerscompass.org. He can be reached atPortland@workerscompass.org.

 

Mark Vorpahl is a union steward, social justice activist and a writer for Workers Action and Occupy.com. He can be reached at Portland@workerscompass.org.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
Conn Hallinan
The Big Boom: Nukes And NATO
Ron Jacobs
Exacerbate the Split in the Ruling Class
Jill Stein
After US Airstrikes Kill 73 in Syria, It’s Time to End Military Assaults that Breed Terrorism
Jack Rasmus
Trump, Trade and Working Class Discontent
John Feffer
Could a Military Coup Happen Here?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Late Night, Wine-Soaked Thoughts on Trump’s Jeremiad
Andrew Levine
Vice Presidents: What Are They Good For?
Michael Lukas
Law, Order, and the Disciplining of Black Bodies at the Republican National Convention
Victor Grossman
Horror News, This Time From Munich
Margaret Kimberley
Gavin Long’s Last Words
Mark Weisbrot
Confidence and the Degradation of Brazil
Brian Cloughley
Boris Johnson: Britain’s Lying Buffoon
Lawrence Reichard
A Global Crossroad
Kevin Schwartz
Beyond 28 Pages: Saudi Arabia and the West
Charles Pierson
The Courage of Kalyn Chapman James
Michael Brenner
Terrorism Redux
Bruce Lerro
Being Inconvenienced While Minding My Own Business: Liberals and the Social Contract Theory of Violence
Mark Dunbar
The Politics of Jeremy Corbyn
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Why It’s Just Fine for U.S. to Blow Up Children
Binoy Kampmark
Laura Ingraham and Trumpism
Uri Avnery
The Great Rift
Nicholas Buccola
What’s the Matter with What Ted Said?
Aidan O'Brien
Thank Allah for Western Democracy, Despondency and Defeat
Joseph Natoli
The Politics of Crazy and Stupid
Sher Ali Khan
Empirocracy
Nauman Sadiq
A House Divided: Turkey’s Failed Coup Plot
Franklin Lamb
A Roadmap for Lebanon to Grant Civil Rights for Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon
Colin Todhunter
Power and the Bomb: Conducting International Relations with the Threat of Mass Murder
Michael Barker
UK Labour’s Rightwing Select Corporate Lobbyist to Oppose Jeremy Corbyn
Graham Peebles
Brexit, Trump and Lots of Anger
Anhvinh Doanvo
Civilian Deaths, Iraq, Syria, ISIS and Drones
Christopher Brauchli
Kansas and the Phantom Voters
Peter Lee
Gavin Long’s Manifesto and the Politics of “Terrorism”
Missy Comley Beattie
An Alarmingly Ignorant Fuck
Robert Koehler
Volatile America
Adam Vogal
Why Black Lives Matter To Me
Raouf Halaby
It Is Not Plagiarism, Y’all
Rev. Jeff Hood
Deliver Us From Babel
Frances Madeson
Juvenile Life Without Parole, Captured in ‘Natural Life’
Charles R. Larson
Review: Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail