Attacking the unions

Mitt Romney goes on the offensive as the Republican nomination race returns to America’s industrial heartland.

As the fierce battle to become the Republican presidential nominee moves to Michigan, the home of the American motor industry, Mitt Romney has taken aim at the unions.

Large numbers of working people, whether they are union or not, understand fully that this crisis that we are facing was not created by workers or unions or anybody at the rank-and-file level.

– Chris Townsend from the United Electrical Workers Union

Romney has consistently criticised Barack Obama’s bailout of car companies like General Motors – which many Democrats and others believe saved the industry.
He has claimed that it was a reward for “hundreds of millions” in campaign contributions from labour bosses.
And he has tried to paint his closest rival Rick Santorum as “big labour’s favourite senator”.
Over the last year, debate over the rights of workers and unions has been heated in a number of US states, in particular Ohio and Wisconsin, with protests for and against.

“I think unions recognise that this is an election to end all elections for union activity.

– JP Friere, a Republican strategist

A variety of major unions and thousands of their members joined forces with Occupy Wall Street protesters, demonstrating against economic inequality and the influence of corporations on government in cities across the US.
On the campaign trail in Michigan – particularly in the last week – Romney has made bashing the unions a key part of his campaign. He said he has taken on union bosses before and he will do so again.
So what role can we expect the unions to play this election year? How influential are they politically and financially and is attacking them a potential vote-winner?

To discuss this, Inside Story: US 2012 with presenter Lisa Fletcher, is joined by: Jason Johnson, a political analyst; JP Friere, a Republican strategist; and Chris Townsend, a political action director at the United Electrical Workers Union.

“As we’ve seen in places like Ohio and Florida, going after the unions is not something that is going to help you. It is going to alienate lots of people …. It is not a good strategy long term and I think Mitt Romney is going to regret this if he ends up getting this nomination ….

It becomes a lightning rod issue and one of the things Republicans really want to make sure they can focus on this year is making sure that despondent Obama voters from 2008 don’t get activated over an issue. And going after labour is a bad idea ….

Attacking the unions galvanises Obama’s voters and that hurts [Mitt Romney].”

Jason Johnson, a political analyst