I posted last week about the Employee Free Choice Act, which would help ensure that when a majority of employees in a workplace decide to form a union, they can do so without the debilitating legal obstacles employers frequently use to block them.

Well, Senate Republicans blocked the bill today. Democrats were unable to get the 60 votes needed to force consideration of the Act, ending organized labor’s chance to win its top legislative priority during this Congress. The final vote was 51 to 48 along party lines except for Arlen Specter who voted with the Democrats.

But Big Labor is putting a happy face on the defeat. The Teamsters applauded the majority vote, calling it “a significant achievement in the fight to restore America’s middle class.”

The AFL-CIO’s lead blogger, James Parks, stressed that “the momentum for this bill is growing. The grassroots movement behind this legislation is bigger and more exciting than anyone believed last year. Working families across the country mounted a massive campaign to win passage of the bill. Sixteen governors and nearly 1,300 state and local elected officials expressed support for the legislation in all 50 states. Seven presidential candidates also backed the bill. Working families held more than 100 rallies last week across the country demanding that Congress restore the fundamental freedom to join a union and bargain for a better life. More than 4,500 workers and elected officials rallied on Capitol Hill June 19 to urge support for the legislation. Middle-class Americans generated 50,000 telephone calls to the Senate, 156,000 faxes and e-mail messages and 220,000 postcards, including 120,000 delivered to the Senate last week.”

These are indeed encouraging signs of civic engagement and the labor movement is seeming more vibrant of late–from last year’s victory by the Smithfield workers to the triumphs by tomato growers in Immokalee, Florida.

So, hopefully, this defeat is but a temporary one on the road to victory. As one of the bill’s sponsors and one of the Senate’s strongest progressives, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, made clear in a fiery press conference this afternoon, “It’s clear the majority of the American people want this legislation. A majority of the House wants it. A majority of the Senate wants it. And we will keep coming back year after year.”