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Three Labor Days into his presidential term, Barack Obama has finally devised a jobs plan. With unemployment eclipsing nine percent for 26 of his first 30 full months in office, the focus on putting America to work, to be unveiled in a speech initially crassly scheduled to conflict with Wednesday’s Republican presidential debate, seems quite late. But to satiate the grumblings of Big Labor, it comes not a second too soon.
“This is going to be a moment where history and our members are going to judge him,” Richard Trumka says of Obama’s jobs plan. The AFL-CIO president threatens that some of his affiliates may sit out of national politics next year, focusing instead on local races (as they disastrously did in Wisconsin this year).
The about-face would appear both tone deaf and an act of massive ingratitude. President Obama turned over General Motors to the United Auto Workers. Democrats in Congress and the White House infamously exempted unionized workers from the 40 percent excise tax on so-called “Cadillac” health-care plans through 2018. His recent selection of Princeton labor economist Alan Krueger to replace Austan Goolsbee as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers has been widely interpreted as a sop to unions. And his National Labor Relations Board has become a rubber stamp for union whim, with its job-killing edict blocking a new Boeing aircraft factory in right-to-work South Carolina the most glaring demonstration of this.
“America wants to work,” Trumka commented this August. “To make that happen, it will take smart, large-scale public investment to restore America’s place in the world—and the opportunities are there. Our crumbling roads, highways and bridges cry out for investment. We have a tax system that begs for an adult conversation about how to make it fairer and raise the revenues we need.”
It’s not just that Trumka’s comment overlooks the last three years—isn’t he describing what the stimulus package was supposed to be?—it overlooks the last six decades. Trumka’s demands for more spending and higher taxes seem something out of Great Depression America. They don’t reflect the political realities of a 21st-century nation facing a $15 trillion debt and an economy stuck in neutral.
If Trumka is out of touch with America, he is in tune with Unionized America. Trumka’s call for jobs is as much about means as ends. He wants more jobs, but only if pursued in a manner (massive government spending) that benefits the job holders who pay his organization a portion of their earnings. Alas, his process necessarily defeats his stated goal. The Big Government that serves as a boon for Big Labor has been a bust for the United States. Massive government projects, in the immediate wake of several years of massive government projects no less, are nonstarters for a broke nation. But such boondoggles are the lifeblood of unions that increasingly depend upon government spending. In effect, they want taxpayers to pay union dues, too.
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