Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Obama Silent on Labor


Women.  Gays.  African-Americans.  All are groups whose historical and contemporary injustices have mobilized America’s liberal base.  President Obama offered acknowledgement in his second inaugural and even a few historical allusions, mentioning “Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall”—the sites of a women’s rights convention, a racist murder and civil rights march, and a police raid of a gay establishment.

But who was missing from this glittering multicultural mosaic of tolerance?

Ever-neglected labor, of course.  Yes, those door-knocking, winter-braving workers who brought us Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Baldwin, 80,000 volunteer shifts in Ohio and 2 million voter contacts in the state where 60% of union households voted for Obama.  (Nationally, 58% of voters from union households backed Obama.)

Despite the 2012 actions of labor in states like Ohio, Wisconsin, and Nevada, Obama chose not mention the historical setbacks of American labor or to acknowledge their efforts on his behalf.  Why didn’t he mention, say, the recent Illinois Caterpillar strike which resulted in a defeat with far-reaching concessions including a wage freeze and an increase in worker health care costs?  Are not wage-depression, out-sourcing, and corporate-strong arming the unaddressed issues of this generation?  Or if Caterpillar’s small failed strike was unimportant to Obama or irrelevant to his administration’s narrative, why not mention the Chicago teacher’s strike–a victory for workers (in his home state) that challenges the extremes of education “reformers”?

Perhaps, in some twisted Washington conference room, such shout-outs are bad politics.  But isn’t the least the President could do is mention the history of those working people who have stood up to entrenched power for over a hundred and fifty years?  If one is so desperate for cheap alliteration why not present “Seneca Falls, Selma, Stonewall, and San Joaquin” (1933)?  Or how about Santa Clara Valley (1933)?  Or the San Francisco Waterfront (1934)?  How’s about the Streetcar Strikes (1900/1907/1908)?  The Steel Strikes (1919/1946/1959)?  The Savannah dockworkers Strike (1866)?

More people died in these events and dozens of actions like them.  And these strikes were certainly more dramatic than Seneca Falls and included a more diverse population of classes and races.

So why the neglect?

It’s not as if labor couldn’t use specific legislation, political encouragement, or even a public wink or backslap.  Organized Labor recently spent $20 million in Michigan to insert collective bargaining in the state’s constitution, only to receive “right to work.”  And the President has urged 2013 action on TPP.  This corporate beloved agreement is a mechanism to undertake politically unpopular “free trade” measures that grant new rights and privileges to companies and constrain regulators; measures that, according to Public Citizen’s Lori Walluch, “limit the regulation of financial services, land use, food safety, natural resources, energy, tobacco, healthcare, and more.”

The President’s neglect results from Obama’s acceptance of income inequality, his commitment to the discredited technocratic “consensus,” and timidity at facing down and welcoming the hatred of America’s corporate class.  The President has been quite clear:  A second term will consist of voting reforms, immigration, implementing the affordable care act, and if you’re still awake, perhaps we’ll discuss school uniforms before the 2016 debates.

After Obama’s win, AFL-CIO’s President Richard Trumka asserted in a hopeful tone that the President will back a bill supporting “card-check,” a provision that would make it easier for unions to organize by abolishing the secret ballot.  It is apparently Obama’s stealth labor item.  But with a Republican House occupied as it is with bilious rowdies like the Gohmert and Bachmann quarter, how far will such legislation journey?  And if it takes the midterm election to shave away some of the reactionary deadwood, can Obama accomplish “card-check” with his possible Democratic successors—their beady-eyes locked on 2016—dashing about for unlimited corporate coin?

Brett Warnke is a free-lancer who recently finished an internship at The Nation and can be reached at

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 25, 2016
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation wasted $32.2 million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians