The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, March 30, 2012

AFL-CIO formally endorses Obama for re-election

By The Building Tradesman

By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer

ORLANDO, Fla. (PAI) – As expected, the AFL-CIO’s General Board voted unanimously on March 13 to formally endorse Democratic incumbents Barack Obama and Joseph Biden for re-election as president and vice president of the U.S.

“Although the labor movement has sometimes differed with the president and often pushed his administration to do more and do it faster, we have never doubted his commitment to working families,” federation President Richard Trumka’s statement said.

“It’s fairly obvious,” AFSCME President Gerald McEntee, the fed’s political committee chair, said. “We feel he’s put bold solutions forward to put people back to work, bring revenues to our economy and that he has a vision for the future.”

The federation’s endorsement is important because it allows the 11-million member group – including its 57 member unions and its three-million-person Working America affiliate – to mobilize for Obama and Biden from now through November.

The AFL-CIO endorsement is also important because the federation’s unions have credibility with particular groups of voters, and not just unionists: The white working class, especially men, whom Obama lost by a small margin in 2008. Recent polls show Obama trails among white non-college-educated men by 50-31 percent.

Trumka previewed the arguments the AFL-CIO and its allies would use to win over voters, who are still reeling from the Great Recession– and dubious the Obama administration has done enough.  And some unionists, he admitted, are disappointed more jobs have not been created since Obama took office. Some 3.5 million jobs have been created since Jan. 2009, compared to job losses under his GOP predecessor, George W. Bush.

Obama “worked hard to create good jobs. He has made revival of the manufacturing sector a hallmark of his jobs agenda. He has moved aggressively to protect workers’ rights, pay, health and safety on the job. He has worked for a fair resolution of the housing crisis,” Trumka’s prepared statement added.

Trumka added another reason at the press conference: The policies of the GOP hopefuls – notably former venture capitalist and Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney – mimic Bush’s policies “that got us into this mess.”

In the press conference, Trumka admitted he sang a different tune last July, criticizing Obama’s emphasis then on deficit-cutting and the debt, after the 2010 GOP electoral sweep. But since Labor Day, Trumka said, Obama “made a complete pivot” to talk about “jobs, jobs, jobs.”

“To his credit, Obama was trying to reach across the aisle” to work with the GOP then, Trumka admitted. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kent., “wasn’t interested in jobs, health care or the economy – just in taking him (Obama) out.”

Trumka also said voters are very disappointed by the extreme anti-union, anti-worker stands of governors and legislators elected in the 2010 GOP sweep. He said those moves have not only unified the labor movement for Obama’s re-election, but also energized workers – union and non-union – against that pro-corporate agenda.

“In 2010, those guys campaigned on ‘jobs, jobs, jobs.’ But from day one, they dropped the jobs agenda and went after us – and not just us,” he explained. That anti-worker agenda backfired with a resounding win for collective bargaining rights in Ohio, ouster of two anti-worker GOP state senators in Wisconsin and a recall effort against Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., who pushed through an anti-collective bargaining law there, Trumka said. “When we tell this story, the momentum will continue to build” for Obama and other pro-worker candidates, he predicted.

Other leaders gave other reasons they expect unionists to back Obama. Fire Fighters President Harold Schaitberger, whose union is one of several whose membership is plurality Republican by registration, said even his GOP members want to re-elect Obama. “For the last 18 months, our members have been witnessing first-hand the impact of those” GOP-initiated “laws every single day,” he said.

At an Alabama rally against that state’s anti-worker laws, “One came up and said ‘I’m a lifelong Republican, I’m a conservative, but I did not vote for them to do this to us. I’ll never vote for them again,’ he told me. I find attitudes like this all over the country,” Schaitberger added. “Our members will be engaged.”

Teachers President Randi Weingarten said her politically active union’s members know the two parties have two very different visions of the future of the U.S.

The Democrats are about “rebuilding the middle class, creating a climate of opportunity with good jobs and with a sense of security.” The Republicans are about “an economy where ‘You’re on your own’…and nobody will help you unless you’re part of the 1% -- and that group says ‘I’m going to dictate the rules to everybody else.”