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Are Unions the Key to Obama’s Reelection?

That’s the question the FT is asking. It’s an important question. Major drives by organized labor in Ohio and other Midwestern swing states are giving the president an edge. In an election where the results in Ohio could decide the contest, this is no small matter:

“In Ohio, because of the recent history under Kasich, we will be able to get people out. That is going to counteract any voter apathy you might expect due to the perception that not enough progress has been made,” says Dottie Fay, who was chair of the Democratic party in Ross country during the fight over SB5.

Evan Steele, a firefighter in Chillicothe who is a Republican and regrets his vote for Mr Kasich, says the campaign against the law made a “huge difference” to his views about Republicans.
Back in Columbus, a change in election law under the Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court is allowing unions to campaign directly not just to union households, as was once the case, but to non-union homes, roughly doubling the AFL-CIO’s reach, according to the labour union.

A massive push by organized labor is not the only thing that could ensure Obama’s re-election, but it is one of the few things that the president and his allies can have a great deal of influence over. After the past two years, organized labor has come to feel that a GOP sweep of Congress and the White House would create the worst political environment for labor since Andrew Mellon was Treasury secretary in the Coolidge administration. Faced with such a dire possibility, labor will pull out all the stops in this campaign.

The larger question is how long labor can survive on this kind of emergency basis, where every election cycle presents the movement with massive challenges. Every dollar and every hour of staff and volunteer time that goes into life-or-death election campaigning is a resource that doesn’t go into staving off decades-long decline. It also diverts energy from the crucial task of re-imagining the American labor movement for the 21st century.

Labor backing may help President Obama extend his lease on the White House. However, while defeat would be disastrous to labor, victory probably won’t reverse its decline.

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  • Emerson

    I imagine the union plan is to be reimbursed by the Dems and their ranks swelled by, as an example, making everyone in Obamacare join a union.

  • Corlyss

    I’m skeptical of European analysis of American politics. I’ve found their coverage wanting in massive ways in Economist and FT before.

    American unions are not European unions. Unions, to the extent that they have any numbers to speak of, are locked into government, and there’s no hiding that fact when government is exposed as the serial offender in our fiscal mess and union contracts are directly implicated. I don’t think government unions will do Obama that much good; there just too few. Additionally, what has Obama done for mfg unions? Zip, zero, nada. For unions to have any kind of membership in the private sector, there have to be jobs. I don’t think that’s lost on union members. Lastly, people have made up their minds and they are not talking about who they’re voting for. When I hear that factoid, I know Republicans are going to win big.

  • Christopher

    As a resident of Michigan and a Republican I feel the election here hinges on one thing. The unions are attempting to have a constitutional amendment placed on the ballot. This will ensure collective bargaining for all public employees. It will also roll back requirements the state made of teachers to pay more toward their health care and retirement.
    This being battled in the courts as we speak. The Court of Appeals is required to have the decision on this case Monday at the latest. the state feels this law is to broad and the effects are not truly understood.
    If this is allowed on the ballot, union members and democrats will turn out and win the state. If this fails to make the ballot, the right wins and I feel Romney will carry the election.

  • Mark Michael

    I’m from Ohio and do agree that Senate Bill 5 alienated two public labor unions, police and firefighters, who normally give a majority of their votes to the R’s. I’m optimistic that the Romney/Ryan will prevail in Ohio after the fall debates when everyone is paying attention. The Tea Party faithful are less vociferous this year – it’s been 3 years since they started after all – but the conviction and quiet fervor is still there & will show at the polls come Nov. 6th. (That’s my opinion and I’m sticking with it!)

    Background. Kasich was ambivalent about signing SB 5, since he’s sympathetic to labor unions, but he signed it anyway. (His father was a postal worker as I recall, and he has a bit of a union outlook.) He actually undermined the R effort to defend SB 5 at the polls in Nov. 2011, making the defeat even worse than it might have been.

    Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin exempted police and firefighters from his Act 10. He was accused of political favoritism for that move. But it helped him survive his recall election. Police and firefighters in both states are only maybe 5% to 7% of the public workers, plus their pay isn’t that much further out of line with other government workers. Ohio R’s did not exempt them and paid the political price.

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