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Labor Movement Reacts to State of the Union

The collective reaction to the State of the Union from the labor movement seems to be, “Let’s see what you’ve got, Obama.”  Leaders from across the movement commended the President for his speech and his agenda, with a collective focus on jobs as the takeaway from the speech. But with a notable exception: International Association of Machinists President Tom Buffenbarger unloads on Obama for a lack of specifics on jobs.

Rich Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, recorded a remarkable video message to union members last night from the federation’s balcony over the White House, producing an impressive visual tied with a great message.  Watch it:

Trumka’s main message:

“I listened to the president tonight and came away pretty proud. Pretty proud about the role working Americans played in electing him, but pretty proud in pushing him to understand that nothing is more important right now than jobs, and nothing is more important than giving working Americans a place to go to work.”

SEIU released dueling statements from Andy Stern and Anna Burger; a short message from the former about the need to wrap up health care reform, and a longer reaction from the latter has a rather direct challenge to Obama to deliver on the promises he made some time ago.  From Burger:

“Their message to Congress and the President is clear: voters are seeing positive and progressive change that helps real working families and voters are ready to hold corporations accountable.

“President Obama should heed the call he gave each of us long ago: We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for. Pat, Victoria, and Maria can’t afford to wait any longer to live their American Dreams.”

But if you want to see what a lot of union members are feeling – and what union leaders may be thinking privately – get a load of Machinists President Tom Buffenbarger unleashing on Obama’s lack of a “comprehensive strategy” for job recovery (via laborite57 in the comments).  I’m going to paste it in full because it’s truly something to behold, and a harbringer of what’s to come if both the labor movement and working people don’t see real results on jobs, and soon.

“It is hard to reconcile the images of a year ago – millions of Americans watching as one as President Barack Obama took the oath of office – and the faces of 31 million Americans who have been idled in this Grave Recession. Even the pomp and ceremony of this State of the Union address could not dispel the sense that something has gone terribly awry.

“The clarion calls of hope and change have faded like the last notes of Taps. The enveloping darkness, a darkness of deepening disillusionment and even deeper cynicism, is settling across the land.

“When one-fifth of America’s workforce is idled to some degree, the full force of government, business, labor and academia must be marshaled to get them back to work. But no such comprehensive strategy was outlined tonight.

“Tonight, for all those Americans who are unemployed or underemployed, the darkness grew deeper, the cold grew more penetrating, the hunger grew more acute and the fear – yes, the fear – of what tomorrow would bring grew more intense.

“Tomorrow morning, when America’s jobless open their morning newspapers, they will know that their national nightmare will last through 2010. The winter, spring and summer of their discontent now will feel interminable. And their growing anger and frustration will find an outlet, most probably in the 2010 midterm elections.”

Again, this is something else.  It cuts to the core of economic anxiety in the country, and is an apt reaction from working people to President Obama’s first State of the Union.

UPDATE: Helpful context on Buffenbarger’s apparently long-held views of Obama…

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Michael Whitney

Michael Whitney

My name is Michael Whitney. I'm a progressive online organizer working with FDL Action. Rush Limbaugh called me "clueless" once. He went into rehab two days later.