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Posted at 04:51 PM ET, 11/19/2012

Labor hopes to turn Twinkie battle into ‘teachable moment’

So it’s now being reported that Hostess and the bakers’ union will go into mediation, meaning the cream hasn’t been drained out of the Twinkie for good just yet. This is good news in the sense that it means 18,000 workers may yet be spared their jobs. But beyond that, this is now likely to escalate into the sort of battle that raged around recent local skirmishes — such as those over collective bargaining in Wisconsin and Ohio — that labor unions tried to use to draw national attention to workers’ rights.

The AFL-CIO plans to try to turn this into a “teachable moment” and a “national discussion” to “educate people about workers rights and collective bargaining,” according to AFL-CIO spokesman Josh Goldstein. The AFL-CIO will be following the lead of the union that represents the Hostess workers, but it has offered to lend any assistance it can, and will separately use this story to draw national attention to labor issues in general.

Hostess — and some on the right — are seeking to advance a narrative which holds that union greed is responsible for the company’s threat to close down. But a number of facts are emerging to complicate that narrative. Reuters is reporting that the arm of the U.S. Justice Department that oversees bankruptcy cases opposes Hostess’ wind-down plan because it would also give improper bonuses to company insiders — this, after the company blamed excessive demands from workers for the need to shut down.

Meanwhile, Business Insider takes a look at what happened at Hostess and concludes unions have already made concessions to keep the company afloat, and that the hedge funds that control Hostess debt decided that the company would have to die without “total union capitulation.”

The larger political context here is that national unions have had some recent successes in using individual labor skirmishes to get Americans to sympathize more broadly with the plight of workers. In Wisconsin, labor obviously failed to recall Scott Walker over his crackdown on public employee bargaining rights, yet national polls showed healthy public support for the right of public employees to collectively bargain — a surprise, given that many commentators thought Republicans would have an easy time after the 2010 elections in scapegoating public employees amid intense economic anxiety. Labor won a resounding victory in Ohio when voters overturned GOP governor John Kasich’s law stripping public employee bargaining rights — also a battle that drew national attention and sympathy to targeted workers.

Whatever the health of organized labor overall, the Twinkie story seems like another good opportunity for unions to counterprogram conservative messaging with their own story about the skapegoating of supposedly greedy union workers for corporate failings, even as “vulture funds” make a killing — and more broadly about the real causes of middle class economic insecurity. After all, the Twinkie has personal associations for millions, and there seems to be intense public interest in what is really happening here. This will be a very big story.

By  |  04:51 PM ET, 11/19/2012

 
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