Obama in a nutshell

Barack Obama, in an interview with the Washington Post, had this to say about the Employee Free Choice Act, under which a union could become the bargaining representative for employees without the employees voting for this result in a secret ballot.

Q: The Employee Free Choice Act – a timing question and a substance question: in terms of timing how quickly would you like to see it brought up? Would you like to see it brought up in your first year? In terms of substance, the bills that you talked about in your floor statement on the Employee Free Choice Act problems with bullying of [inaudible] people want to join unions. Is card check the only solution? Or are you open to considering other solutions that might shorten the time?

Obama: I think I think that is a fair question and a good one.

Here’s my basic principle that wages and incomes have flatlined over the last decade. That part of that has to do with forces that are beyond everybody’s control: globalization, technology and so forth. Part of it has to do with workers have very little leverage and that larger and larger shares of our productivity go to the top and not to the middle or the bottom. I think unions serve an important role in that. I think that the way the Bush Administration managed the Department of Labor, the NLRB, and a host of other aspects of labor management relations put the thumb too heavily against unions. I want to lift that thumb. There are going to be steps that we can take other than the Employee Free Choice Act that will make a difference there.

I think the basic principle of making it easier and fairer for workers who want to join a union, join a union is important. And the basic outline of the Employee Fair Choice are ones that I agree with. But I will certainly listen to all parties involved including from labor and the business community which I know considers this to be the devil incarnate. I will listen to parties involved and see if there are ways that we can bring those parties together and restore some balance.

You know, now if the business community’s argument against the Employee Free Choice Act is simply that it will make it easier for people to join unions and we think that is damaging to the economy then they probably won’t get too far with me. If their arguments are we think there are more elegant ways of doing this or here are some modifications or tweaks to the general concept that we would like to see. Then I think that’s a conversation that not only myself but folks in labor would be willing to have. But, so that’s the general approach that I am interested in taking. But in terms of time table, if we are losing half a million jobs a month then there are no jobs to unionize. So my focus first is on those key economic priority items that I just mentioned.

This is Obama’s “pragmatism” in a nutshell. He wants to achieve a leftist result — make it much easier for unions to become the bargaining representative of employees. He ignores the non-leftist objection to the mechanism he has endorsed for achieving this result — that “card checks” are anti-democratic — and suggests that the real objection may be the desire to keep workers out of unions. And he says he has no time for this sort of objection.

But then Obama invites the opposition into the process, provided it will prove its good faith by proposing more “elegant” ways of achieving his desired leftist result, or by offering “tweaks” to the current inelegant (actually thuggish) proposal. And he gives himself a way out, in the event the opposition declines his invitation and public sentiment is running too strongly against the approach he has signed on to. Under these circumstances, he is willing to kick the issue down the road.

This is pragmatism in service of ideology. It is also preferable, in theory, to the absence of such pragmatism. Other things being equal, it is better to have a president who will accept input from his ideological opponents, even when the input consists of mere tweaks, than a president who won’t. And a popular president’s ideological opponents have no reasonable expectation that he will grant them anything more than the opportunity to help him achieve his ends through alternative means.

At the same time, a president pushing a leftist agenda, even if popular, has no right to expect his ideological opponents to help him find more elegant ways to pull it off. This is true, I hope, even when the opposition is the present Republican party.

JOHN adds: It should be noted that “wages and incomes have flatlined over the last decade”–not true, but take it at face value–only because the measures Obama refers to do not include benefits. The cost of labor has been rising steadily, but indices that ignore benefits miss this increase. In recent years (not confined to the last decade), workers have increasingly chosen, or have been required to “choose” by ill-advised statutes, to take their compensation more and more in the form of benefits, specifically health insurance.

This is logical to the extent that health insurance is a “bargain” paid for with pre-tax dollars. But if anyone wants cash wages to increase, as Obama purports to, there is an easy fix: repeal all state and federal mandates that require employers to provide, and therefore employees to pay for, Cadillac-style health benefits, whether employees want them or not. If Democrats aren’t willing to do this, their protestations about “flatlined” cash compensation are disingenuous.

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