Economic Watch: Relevant Once More, Labor Takes Presidential Prominence

Article excerpt


For the first time in a long time, labor will be a central topic in the presidential campaign. Don't get me wrong. As a political player, labor has consistently been engaged and that won't change this time around, even if labor isn't thrilled with the job the president and Democrats in Congress have done on jobs, labor-law reform or trade deals. As union leaders and members look at the alternatives, they see a rather clear choice.

What will be different this time around is the extent to which labor will be involved as a political issue.

For many years now, even as labor was spending millions of dollars and providing thousands of foot soldiers to work on behalf of endorsed (mostly Democratic) candidates, unions have been largely invisible as a campaign topic. The reason is simple: Labor was seen by many as irrelevant, as a dinosaur from another era.

Welcome to 2012, with labor back in the limelight.

For months, those in the Republican presidential field tried to outdo one another in accusing their rivals of being insufficiently anti-labor. Mitt Romney verged toward an Are you now or have you ever been .." tone as his aides combed Rick Santorum's record for traces of

sympathy for those subversive entities known as unions

As the former Massachusetts governor argues that his business background will make him a better economic steward than President Obama, Mr. Romney will seek to tie union bosses to the administration, aiming to show that the president does the bidding of big labor to the detriment of the economy.

For his part, Mr. Obama will cite several factors, including Mr. Romney's opposition to bailing out the auto industry and his several elitism-tinged gaffes, to show that his rival is out of touch with ordinary working people.

The heretofore nearly anonymous National Labor Relations Board has sent various Republican candidates and legislators into fits of apoplexy as they liken its ruling to dictates from the old Soviet leadership while calling for its defunding. …