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MASON CITY, Iowa — When Barack Obama took questions from a town hall audience of about 500 people on Wednesday, he more than likely didn’t expect the question from Travis Fischer, 23.

The gist of the query was, What would he do to get the producers to really negotiate with the writers?

Obama at first looked confused. After all, other questions were about free trade and farming, not an ongoing labor dispute some 1,500 miles away.

“The writers strike, in Hollywood,” Fischer said to Obama.

Obama paused for a second, then said, “Well, for one thing, I have not been on a TV show with a writer at all.

“The problem is that labor in general, all across the country, is under attack.”

Obama continued, “I am respecting the writers strike and hope they get it resolved. As President, I would like to send a clear message to workers across the country that it is a good thing to join a union.”

Fischer, who runs a newspaper in nearby Thornton, Iowa, says that he has been following the strike via the United Hollywood website — and sees it as a case of management trying to undercut labor.

“I have been following the writers strike on United Hollywood and it’s
really disturbing how it’s going,” he said. “I don’t even understand
how it’s gone on this long. I want to know why they are allowed to do
this and I want to know what Obama wants to do about it.”

Fischer, who plans to caucus for Obama on Jan. 3, admitted that Obama looked a bit “startled” when he asked the question, but seemed satisfied with the candidate’s answer, which was to paint a larger picture of the problem.

Obama went on to criticize the Bush administration’s anti-labor stances, and to equate the WGA with the labor efforts in the service industry.

“Unions provide a countervailing force,” he said. “It means that workers will get a little bit more of the pie. And that is especially important in the service industry, which the writers are a part of. More and more jobs are going to be in the service industry, they are not going to be in manufacturing, even if we stop some of the shifting of jobs overseas. Our nation is going to reduce the number of people who have to work in factories. So we have to make sure that people in the service industry have a foothold in the economy.”

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