Curious about the American Presidential election? 

Here’s what you need to know about how politics south of the border can affect you. 

As the Presidential election cycle heats up in the United States, you can expect to encounter lots of coverage.  

American politics have had serious effects on Canadian workers in the past. The outcomes of Presidential elections can have a big impact around the world. That’s especially true for a country whose sole neighbour and primary trading partner is America.  And this election, in particular, is worth paying attention to. 


Why American Presidential elections matter (a brief history) 

Presidents have historically done a lot to shape the labour movement. This is obvious enough in America itself, of course, but it has also been true through America’s international influence. 

Examples go back to the turn of the 20th century. President Woodrow Wilson supported the creation of the International Labour Organization (ILO) as part of the League of Nations after the First World War. 

The ILO was an international agency tasked with setting humane standards for work among member nations. The theory was that better lives for working people would make future wars less likely. It would go on to have a major (and complicated) influence on labour movements around the world. 

Another important President on this topic was John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Jr., arguably one of the most admired Presidents in American history. JFK was famous both for civil rights legislation and for long-standing support of the labour movement, both in the White House and his prior Senate career:

“Our labour unions are not narrow, self-seeking groups. They have raised wages, shortened hours, and provided supplemental benefits. Through collective bargaining and grievance procedures, they have brought justice and democracy to the shop floor.” 

He backed those kinds of words with actions like raising the minimum wage, expanding the rights and benefits of workers and funding retraining programs for workers who had been automated out of a job.

More recently, Ronald Reagan had an outsized influence on the labour movement. Coming from quite possibly the most anti-labour President in modern times, “Reaganomics” announced itself with direct and brazen union-busting from the Oval Office when thirteen thousand air traffic controllers in PATCO – a union that had supported Reagan’s election – walked off the job. 

Reagan went on to fire eleven thousand members of the union, to jail strike leaders and finally to outright abolish the union itself. It was the announcement of open season on the labour movement not just in America but well beyond. And in many ways, we’re still living with the echoes of Reaganomic policies and embedded hostility to unions. 

The Biden White House and its importance for workers  

The current Presidential election cycle is in large part a verdict on the Biden White House. While there are plenty of intense political issues at play, Joe Biden’s relationship with the labour movement has been an especially high-profile part of his first term in office. And it’s worth taking a specific look at what President Joe Biden has meant for working people. 

A large part of Biden’s Presidency has been spent trying to help people recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. One outcome of that pandemic has been a rise in the cost of living. This has famously been put down to “supply chain” problems by people like Galen Weston Jr. from Loblaw. Biden offers a more direct explanation: greed

The President has been notable for speaking out on the topic. He has exerted direct pressure on grocery chains to “give American consumers a break,” and has said on the campaign trail:  

“Inflation is coming down . . . But for all we’ve done to bring prices down, there are still too many corporations in America ripping people off:  price gouging, junk fees, greedflation, shrinkflation . . . Well, it’s going to stop.  Americans, we’re tired of being played for suckers.” 

It’s a striking thing to hear from an American President in a time when our local union is battling to Stop the Squeeze, but it’s about more than just speeches. 

“Bidenomics” has seen unequivocal efforts to strengthen unions, expand access to child care and long-term care, and support equal employment.  

It has seen landmark measures like the Inflation Reduction Act, which has become an integral part of job creation efforts. 

It has even seen President Biden become the first American President ever to walk on a picket line with striking workers, saying:

“[The] fact of the matter is that you guys, the UAW — you saved the automobile industry back in 2008 and before.  You made a lot of sacrifices.  You gave up a lot.  And the companies were in trouble. But now they’re doing incredibly well.  And guess what?  You should be doing incredibly well too.  It’s a simple proposition.” 

 A symbolic gesture, but when combined with actions, the kind of symbolic gesture that can have tremendous power.

None of this is to say that Biden is perfect. It is just to note that as a staunchly pro-union President, he has done a great deal to shift popular attitudes on labour and the importance of workers.  

The Biden White House is a key part of a shift in the conversation that has needed to happen for many years, and that needs to go further yet. Where Reaganomics was openly hostile to workers and labour organizing, Bidenomics has been the most supportive Presidential approach to workers and unions we have seen since Reagan. 

What this all means for you 

Obviously, none of us can vote directly for or against President Biden. But the influence of American politics and media on conversations in Canada is unmistakable. American culture dominates the Internet we use and the shows and movies we watch.

The dominant cultural influence can mean major shifts in politics, including labour laws. Draconian changes to Alberta’s labour codes in the early Eighties were directly inspired by events in America.  

So it’s worth paying attention to where our own leaders, and would-be leaders, land in those conversations. 

If the pro-union stance of Bidenomics is something you’d like to see more of in Canada, it’s worth looking at who in our own communities is not only talking the talk, but also proposing laws to match. 

It’s also worth taking note of who opposes these changes in legislation. Who’s hostile to them, and what could it mean for your life if they get the chance to put that hostility into practice, say, in Ottawa? 

As we all work to confront the affordability crisis, Stop the Squeeze and support equality and rights for all, these questions are crucial. They will be front and center as America’s Presidential election cycle unfolds, which is why it is important that we pay attention to that race as union members and workers. 

In Solidarity,

President Thomas Hesse
Treasurer Richelle Stewart
UFCW Local 401