Labor may prove to be thorn in GOP's post-Citizens United rose

Last November, the SEIU made a courageous move and endorsed the president early for re-election this November. Today, the AFL-CIO took the same step. President Obama has been a tremendous advocate for working people in the White House and has rigorously protected the rights of workers from the overreach of corporate greed. Richard Trumka, the president of AFL-CIO, noted that in his statement following the endorsement.

Organized workers see the President as a major asset and recognize the stakes in 2012, and are ready to spend $400 million in this year's federal, state and local elections. But that won't be all. The Citizens United ruling from the US Supreme Court - while an astoundingly bad decision - left this saving grace for our democracy: it freed up unions to organize ground campaigns to talk to non-union voters and not just their members, something labor was not able to do prior to Citizens United. And after victories in Wisconsin and Ohio, labor is strong and ready to put nearly half a million footsoldiers to knock on doors.
The same Supreme Court ruling in 2010 that set the stage for these political action committees to accept unlimited donations also allowed unions to send their foot soldiers to visit not just union members at home, but also voters who do not belong to unions — a move expected to increase labor’s political clout significantly in this year’s elections.

Unions first used their expanded ability in a big way in Ohio last November to educate and mobilize both union and nonunion voters in a battle to repeal a law that curbed bargaining rights for Ohio’s teachers, firefighters and other public employees. Spurred by 17,000 union volunteers, labor won in a blowout, with Ohioans voting 62 percent to 38 percent to repeal a law that the Republican-dominated Legislature had enacted seven months earlier.
The real pivotal role organized labor will play in 2012 will be far beyond early endorsements of the president or money to keep Democratic campaigns competitive. Labor will be the only major thorn in the way of uber-wealthy individuals purchasing the American government for pennies on the dollar. Yes, labor has money. A lot of it - but not nearly as much as the Koch brothers. But Labor has something Koch brothers cannot even dream of matching: an army of footsoldiers ready to reach out to working people door to door, adding to Obama's own campaign's ground game. Labor has that thing conservatives dread: organization.

The only people standing between the right wing and their wet dream of an oligarchy are President Obama, the Democratic Party and the organized labor movement. In post-Citizens United America, democracy is left almost entirely at the mercy of corporate greed and the super rich. But only almost. There is still the organized working people's movement, and the strong power of organizing people - by both the president's campaign and the labor movement - that serves as the silver lining in the dark cloud of Citizens United.

There is a reason labor is putting it all out there, so to speak. This is a wake-up moment. In 2010, Democrats sat home - thank you, not-good-enough-ism - and conservatives won big. With that newfound power, the first thing in their line of fire has been organized labor. Why? Because they know that if they can eliminate organized labor as a force in American politics, democracy does not stand a chance. They know that if they can demolish the remaining unions, the American middle class does not stand a chance. And they knew that if they could take out the power of the union movement, President Obama's chances would be doomed, and they would have completed the wholesale purchase of the Oval Office.

But it didn't turn out that way. Under attack, the labor movement fought back, and the president and ordinary working Americans came to stand by their side. In 2011, they came back stronger. And they recognized the calm strength and grit of a leader who stood up for the right of working people to bargain collectively over and over again. They recognized the amazing grace of a skipper who stewarded the economy through its worst days since the Great Depression but never once forgot his goal to build a new economy on the strength of the American worker rather than on the race to the bottom from the multinational corporations.

Organized labor recognized a dedicated servant of working people, and a dedicated protector of their rights in Barack Obama. Now they are ready to return the favor. It's time we do the same.

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