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Will Obama Stick Up for Labor in State of the Union Speech?

He never mentioned unions in his inaugural or State of the Union addresses, except once in passing. As extremists try to destroy the labor movement, it's time for the president step up.

Photo Credit: Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy


President Obama demonstrated his gutsiness in recent months by speaking so many words that craven politicians contend cannot be spoken.

These are hot-button words like same sex-marriage, immigration reform, gun control and climate change. Fighting words. The president even  specifically addressed three of these in his second inaugural speech: the civil rights of gay Americans, the threat of climate change and the need for immigration reform.

Taking on any one of these issues, let alone all of them at once, illustrates the audacity of the guy. That’s good because another inflammatory word must be placed on his to-say list: Union. Radical Republicans and the multi-national corporations that fill their moneybags are brazenly attacking labor unions, attempting to deny all workers the right to collectively bargain. President Obama must forcefully condemn this malicious campaign to undermine the American middle class. He must proclaim to the whole country, not just to labor union members, that he will protect the right of workers to use the power of collective action to secure equitable wages.

Obama has assured union members he has their back. Here’s what  he said in his first Labor Day speech in 2009:

“So let us never forget: much of what we take for granted – the 40-hour work week, the minimum wage, health insurance, paid leave, pensions, Social Security, Medicare – they all bear the union label. It was the American worker – union men and women – who returned from World War II to make our economy the envy of the world. It was labor that helped build the largest middle class in history. So even if you're not a union member, every American owes something to America's labor movement.”

On Labor Day two years later, radicals in the Republican Party were pushing so-called Right to Work (RTW) legislation that denies companies and unions the right to bargain over requiring payments in lieu of dues from workers who decline to join the union. These laws weaken unions because they allow workers to shirk their responsibility to help pay the costs of the union services they benefit from.   Here’s what President Obama said then:

“I know it’s not easy when there's some folks who have their sights trained on you. . .And I want everybody here to know, as long as I’m in the White House I’m going to stand up for collective bargaining. And we’re going to keep at it.  Because having a voice on the job and a chance to organize and a chance to negotiate for a fair day’s pay after a hard day’s work, that is the right of every man and woman in America – not just the CEO in the corner office, but also the janitor who cleans that office after the CEO goes home.  Everybody has got the same right.”

As he ran for President in 2007,  Obama walked a picket line with UNITE HERE Local 1 in Chicago, and  he said this in a speech at Converse College in South Carolina:

"And understand this: If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I'm in the White House, I'll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself, I'll walk on that picket line with you as President of the United States of America. Because workers deserve to know that somebody is standing in their corner."

When the radical Republican governor of Wisconsin  stomped on the bargaining rights of public sector union workers, when the radical Republican governor of Ohio restricted the collective bargaining rights of 360,000 public workers, when the radical Republican governors of  Indiana and Michigan signed legislation denying workers bargaining rights, some union members called for President Obama to put on those comfortable shoes. But he did not.

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