Barack Obama’s ‘TPP vs. labour unions’ problem

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Obama1Barack Obama is a man of divided sympathies. On one hand he wants to be America’s first Pacific President and lead a movement towards greater economic integration with Asia. On the other he is beholden to a base of supporters that showed up in droves for him at the ballot box and made massive contributions to his reelection campaign – the labour unions.  Obama’s resolution of this conflict of interests could have consequences that resound for generations.

Trade unions have reason to worry. For starters, Obama did not mention them or their specific concerns in either his second inaugural address, or in his State of the Union address given a month later. What he did mention, however, was the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Near the end of his State of the Union address, he said:

“We should remember that today’s world presents not only dangers, but opportunities. To boost American exports, support American jobs, and level the playing field in the growing markets of Asia, we intend to complete negotiations on a Trans-Pacific Partnership.”

The TPP would be the world’s largest free-trade agreement.  It is currently being negotiated between the US, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam, and Japan could be next.

US labour unions like the AFL-CIO and the United Auto Workers union are up in arms because they believe that the TPP would dramatically weaken America’s already struggling manufacturing base as imports from Asia become much cheaper and easier to obtain.

Many unions and their sympathisers in the press have criticised Obama for what they see as his hypocrisy on this issue. In the 2008 presidential campaign, then-Senator Obama repeatedly attacked the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), signed by President Bill Clinton, for destroying industrial operations and family farms across the country. In doing so Obama allied himself with blue-collar workers and labourers and promised to be their champion as president. Upon taking office, however, President Obama changed his tune and has found numerous occasions over the last several years to declare his support for the same free trade proposals that unions loathe.

But if Obama is guilty of anything, it is of being a politician. The labour movement has been a central component of the Democratic Party coalition for decades and its ardent support is vitally important for any Democrat seeking the country’s highest office.

Unions are a particularly valuable special interest group because they are organised and reliably pool their resources from membership fees to make massive donations to national Democratic politicians. In 2008 and 2012, unions were among the very top contributors to the Democratic Party. Union members also vote as a block for Democrats and their turnout at the polls is always exceptionally high. Thus, Democratic presidential hopefuls must court them on the campaign trail.

Once in office, however, Democratic presidents seem to fully appreciate the immense economic gains to be had from free trade. The prevailing wisdom that their actions reflect is that, though there will necessarily be job losses and dislocations within particular industries and sectors, the economy as a whole will grow and new jobs in different industries will become available for dislocated workers.

Democratic presidents also seem to have come to the conclusion that unions have no choice but to back them. The Republican Party is pro-free trade to its very core. Unions are thus left with little recourse but to hope that the tepid support of Democratic presidents will redound to their benefit, and it often does.

Since Obama will not face re-election, his administration seems to have decided that their ‘TPP vs. labour unions’ problem is not much of a problem at all. It could become one, however, for the inevitable “Hillary Clinton for president” campaign.

Do you like this post?
  • Fascinated
  • Happy
  • Sad
  • Angry
  • Bored
  • Afraid

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Barack Obama is a man of divided sympathies. On one hand he wants to be America’s first Pacific President and lead a movement towards greater economic integration with Asia. On the other he is beholden to a base of supporters that showed up in droves for him at the ballot box and made massive contributions to his reelection campaign – the labour unions.  Obama’s resolution of this conflict of interests could have consequences that resound for generations.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Obama1Barack Obama is a man of divided sympathies. On one hand he wants to be America’s first Pacific President and lead a movement towards greater economic integration with Asia. On the other he is beholden to a base of supporters that showed up in droves for him at the ballot box and made massive contributions to his reelection campaign – the labour unions.  Obama’s resolution of this conflict of interests could have consequences that resound for generations.

Trade unions have reason to worry. For starters, Obama did not mention them or their specific concerns in either his second inaugural address, or in his State of the Union address given a month later. What he did mention, however, was the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Near the end of his State of the Union address, he said:

“We should remember that today’s world presents not only dangers, but opportunities. To boost American exports, support American jobs, and level the playing field in the growing markets of Asia, we intend to complete negotiations on a Trans-Pacific Partnership.”

The TPP would be the world’s largest free-trade agreement.  It is currently being negotiated between the US, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam, and Japan could be next.

US labour unions like the AFL-CIO and the United Auto Workers union are up in arms because they believe that the TPP would dramatically weaken America’s already struggling manufacturing base as imports from Asia become much cheaper and easier to obtain.

Many unions and their sympathisers in the press have criticised Obama for what they see as his hypocrisy on this issue. In the 2008 presidential campaign, then-Senator Obama repeatedly attacked the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), signed by President Bill Clinton, for destroying industrial operations and family farms across the country. In doing so Obama allied himself with blue-collar workers and labourers and promised to be their champion as president. Upon taking office, however, President Obama changed his tune and has found numerous occasions over the last several years to declare his support for the same free trade proposals that unions loathe.

But if Obama is guilty of anything, it is of being a politician. The labour movement has been a central component of the Democratic Party coalition for decades and its ardent support is vitally important for any Democrat seeking the country’s highest office.

Unions are a particularly valuable special interest group because they are organised and reliably pool their resources from membership fees to make massive donations to national Democratic politicians. In 2008 and 2012, unions were among the very top contributors to the Democratic Party. Union members also vote as a block for Democrats and their turnout at the polls is always exceptionally high. Thus, Democratic presidential hopefuls must court them on the campaign trail.

Once in office, however, Democratic presidents seem to fully appreciate the immense economic gains to be had from free trade. The prevailing wisdom that their actions reflect is that, though there will necessarily be job losses and dislocations within particular industries and sectors, the economy as a whole will grow and new jobs in different industries will become available for dislocated workers.

Democratic presidents also seem to have come to the conclusion that unions have no choice but to back them. The Republican Party is pro-free trade to its very core. Unions are thus left with little recourse but to hope that the tepid support of Democratic presidents will redound to their benefit, and it often does.

Since Obama will not face re-election, his administration seems to have decided that their ‘TPP vs. labour unions’ problem is not much of a problem at all. It could become one, however, for the inevitable “Hillary Clinton for president” campaign.

Do you like this post?
  • Fascinated
  • Happy
  • Sad
  • Angry
  • Bored
  • Afraid