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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

June 30, 2011 at 9:50 AM

The president and the unions: The community organizer isn’t a labor organizer

The dominant media theme is that President Obama “is on the defensive” because of the NLRB ruling that Boeing broke the law by moving some 787 production to a non-union plant in North Charleston in direct retaliation against unions in the Puget Sound. Amid the sliver of progressive bloggers, the headline is something like, “Obama to unions: Drop dead.”

Yet the president made two perfectly sensible points: “As a general proposition, companies need to have the freedom to relocate,” but they must follow the law when doing so. And, “What I think defies common sense would be a notion that we would be shutting down a plant or laying off workers because labor and management can’t come to a sensible agreement.” The chief executive shouldn’t insert himself into the process any more than this.

After decades of a business-dominated NLRB making pro-management rulings, now some are shocked that the federal agency charged with ensuring balance between business and labor should actually attempt to do so. Yet it’s just that balance, along with the right to organize and bargain collectively in the private sector, that is a cornerstone of American democracy. It also played no small role in lower income inequality. The rise of business power has had the opposite effect, while offshoring millions of jobs and, emboldened by deregulation and the big money to drive self-serving policies, driving the economy into a ditch.

The cautious, temporizing president missed a chance to remind Americans of some basic truths. Your weekends off, eight-hour work day, end of child labor, workplace safety and a host of other goods came thanks to unions, especially in the private sector. Not from the beneficence of moguls. Not from Ayn Rand’s fevered imagination. Not from “the free market.” But from the hard work and often the blood shed by union members over many decades.

Socialism? Hardly. The AFL-CIO was among the fiercest anti-communist warriors in the Cold War. In fact, the countries that despised, feared and suppressed independent unions were Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, and now communist China.

Today’s Econ Haiku:

A new market boom?

Just mid-year rebalancing

The bears are still there

Comments | More in Jobs/Unemployment, Labor unions, Politics and the economy

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