Labor Day Struggle for Unions and Obama

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Labor Day marks a rough year for President Obama and the labor union movement that had high hopes for him. Unemployment remains high, and unions are under fire from political conservatives.

This Labor Day marks a rough year for the Obama administration and the labor union movement that had high hopes for him.

Both are dispirited by the failure of a slowly recovering economy to produce new jobs and get the unemployment rate back down below 9 percent. And union leaders - an important part of any Democrat's base of support - have been disappointed in Obama's apparent willingness to readily cooperate with (some would say capitulate to) Republicans and business interests on economic matters.

"Obama campaigned big, but he's governing small," Amalgamated Transit Union president Larry Hanley complained to the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, public labor unions fought major battles to keep their pay and benefit levels - and, more importantly, their bargaining rights - in Wisconsin and other states. Their Democratic Party allies in Wisconsin lost the battle to recall Republican lawmakers, leaving the GOP in control of the state house.

With billions of dollars in help from Uncle Sam, General Motors and Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy and are paying back the bailout ahead of schedule. That was good news for unionized auto workers. Still, Michigan's unemployment rate remains above 10 percent.

Meanwhile, the level of union membership and public support for organized labor continues to slip.

A new Gallup poll shows a bare majority (52 percent) of Americans approve of labor unions. While that's about the same relatively low level as last year - compared with past years when the figure was as high as about 70 percent - it also reflects a widening partisan gap and "a greater politicization of union issues," writes Gallup managing editor Jeffrey Jones.

"Now, 78 percent of Democrats and 26 percent of Republicans approve, a difference of 52 percentage points, compared with a 37- point gap last year," he writes. "This could reflect a greater politicization of union issues given the fact that many state-level efforts to curb union influence were promoted by Republican governors often backed by a Republican-controlled legislature."

The demographic profile of the labor movement tells part of the political story. …