After suffering a string of defeats in 2012, US union leaders had little to celebrate, or to look forward to, as they marked Labour Day yesterday.
Stung by losses in former strongholds such as Wisconsin and Indiana, organised labour has pledged to spend more than $100m to help President Obama win re-election over Republican nominee Mitt Romney and reverse the Republican sweep of state legislatures two years ago.
But, as the US paused for a national holiday honouring the union movement, there is a growing sense that labour's ability to deliver politically is fading. Organised labour's inability to twist arms of Democratic allies such as California Governor Jerry Brown and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in recent pension fights has observers questioning whether it can deliver Michigan, Wisconsin or Ohio – all battleground states run by Republican governors – to the Democrats this November.
The Republicans, who wrapped up their nominating convention last week, produced a platform more hostile to organised labour than any in modern history, said Richard Kahlenberg, senior fellow at the left-leaning Century Foundation.
This week's Democratic convention, in contrast, is sure to produce a more union-friendly platform. However, President Obama's track record on labour issues has disappointed some unions.
"The Democrats have sold us out, and there's a real questioning of the role they can play going forward," said Betty Maloney, a retired school counsellor from New Jersey, who protested an appearance by Vice-President Joe Biden at a teachers' union conference in Detroit.