Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A new guy with guts and some good instincts

Richard Trumka, a former head of the United Mine Workers Union, will become head of the AFL-CIO on Wednesday. Labor may be down, but it's not out. It is still the anchor of progressive forces when it comes to popular mobilization. The President knows that; he showed up to speak at labor's convention.

According to the Washington Post, Trumka assesses President Obama this way:

"He really gets it," Trumka said. "He's one of the first presidents who . . . speaks from a worker's point of view who actually understands what workers think and feel."

My sense is that Trumka is right: Obama does seem to grasp how people who work for a living feel. And that in itself feels novel.

But can labor take Obama's empathy to mean that he'll fight for the actual interests of workers? Empathy is nice; delivering the goods is way better. Since the AFL-CIO has signed on in support of the public option as part of health care "reform," they've got an immediate test case.

Trumka is no slouch. He dares to speak frankly, a refreshing quality in a public figure. Here he is talking to Steelworkers about race during last year's campaign:

Putting Trumka at the helm has to be a hopeful sign for the often arthritic labor movement.

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