On Friday, The New York Times had a story about the United States Conference of Mayors meeting that was last weekend in Providence, Rhode Island. Apparently, top-level administration officials, including Vice-President Biden, did not plan to attend because local firefighters were going to be picketing during the event. Robert Gibbs, President Obama’s Press Secretary stated, “We (the administration) have always respected picket lines and administration officials will not cross one.”
I do not think we have has such a pro-labor, pro-union Presidency since the New Deal. The firefighters union has been in a contract dispute with the city for ten years. The Mayors’ group chose Providence for their meeting five years ago. The Mayor of Providence, David N. Cicilline (D) called the picketing “political extortion.”
The Providence firefighters are using time-honored organizing tools including the boycott to advance their agenda. Boycotts were a typical tactic of unions, including the brewery workers, in the nineteenth century. Since the Obama administration is supportive of labor and unions, it will be interesting to see if that support, combined with hard economic times, leads to greater labor activity and union organizing.