A pro-labor president-elect

A PRO-LABOR PRESIDENT-ELECT…. When Barack Obama said he’d be a union ally after the election, he meant it. Yesterday, he publicly addressed the worker sit-in at the Republic Windows and Doors factory, and voiced his support for labor.

“When it comes to the situation here in Chicago with the workers who are asking for their benefits and payments they have earned, I think they are absolutely right,” Obama said Sunday at a news conference announcing his new Veterans Affairs director. “What’s happening to them is reflective of what’s happening across this economy.

“When you have a financial system that is shaky, credit contracts. Businesses large and small start cutting back on their plants and equipment and their workforces. That’s why it’s so important for us to maintain a strong financial system. But it’s also important for us to make sure that the plans and programs that we design aren’t just targeted at maintaining the solvency of banks, but they are designed to get money out the doors and to help people on Main Street. So, number one, I think that these workers, if they have earned their benefits and their pay, then these companies need to follow through on those commitments.

“Number two, I think it is important for us to make sure that, moving forward, any economic plan we put in place helps businesses to meet payroll so we are not seeing these kinds of circumstances again,” he said. “Have we done everything that we can to make sure credit is flowing to businesses and to families, and to students who are trying to get loans? And to homeowners who have been making payments on their homes but are still finding their property values so depressed that it becomes very difficult for them to make the mortgage payments?

“That’s where the rubber hits the road and that’s going to be the central focus of my administration.”

Ezra Klein had a good point about the politics of this, noting that Obama was successful as a candidate without having to rely on any of the major interest groups, including labor. “So these sorts of statements are more significant than if Obama were simply giving the AFL-CIO some expected payback, as they suggest a certain level of authentic sympathy,” Ezra said.

As for the latest developments, this afternoon, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich “ordered all state agencies Monday to stop doing business with Bank of America to try to pressure the bank into helping laid-off workers staging a sit-in at their shuttered factory. The governor wants the North Carolina-based bank to use some of its federal bailout money to resolve the protest by about 200 workers at Republic Windows and Doors.”

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said Republic representatives will meet later this afternoon with union and bank officials, and the AP report noted that Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said from the shuttered plant “that he would talk to fellow senators about reminding banks that taxpayer dollars are not for dividends or executive salaries.”

Washington Monthly - Donate today and your gift will be doubled!

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.