By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer
WASHINGTON (PAI) - With the Nov. 7 general election fast approaching, there are two things you can say for certain about the 2006 campaign: Organized labor is pushing economic issues, and the U.S. House is up for grabs. And both are important to working men and
Faced with a GOP campaign that, once again, emphasizes social issues - including the supposed "threat" of immigrants - and national security, unionists and their allies are pointing out that workers and their families have fallen farther and farther behind economically in the six years of virtually total GOP control of the government.
The litany of woe includes flat or declining real wages and a record number - almost 47 million - of uninsured, as well as disappearing private pensions.
And unions also point out that unless pro-worker forces re-take control of at least one house of Congress, by ousting enough anti-worker lawmakers, there will be few checks on the anti-worker policies of GOP President George W. Bush and his backers.
Independent polls and analyses show 54 to 55 of the 435 seats in the House are in play, many in the industrial Midwest. Of those nationwide, 17 GOP-held seats are too close to call. Democrats need to gain 15 seats to take over the House. The GOP now leads 232-202.
Another 17 GOP-held seats "lean Republican," meaning the Republican is ahead but the
race could change complexion. And 21 Democratic-held seats "lean Democratic." There are no Democratic seats in the too-close-to-call category.
"There's a big anti-Republican wave building," said Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster working for several House candidates, to the Christian Science Monitor. "But that wave will crash up against a very stable political structure, and nobody will know till Wednesday morning (the day after the election) which is more important - the size of the wave or the stability of the structure."
Analysts count six Senate races in play, but not in Michigan, where incumbent Democrat Debbie Stabenow has a comfortable lead over Republican challenger Mike Bouchard. Even an unlikely Democratic sweep of those six Senate seats would leave them in a 50-50 tie with Republicans.
Workers are active in all of those close races, and others as well. They include gubernatorial campaigns, plus minimum wage hike referendums in six states.
The Change to Win federation, which broke away from the AFL-CIO last year, de-emphasized politics in favor of organizing, but made an exception for the Michigan governor's race. They're working for Jennifer Granholm. "This election is about wages, health care and retirement security for all of Michigan working men and women," said Teamsters President James Hoffa, in pledging their support for Granholm.
Organized labor is spending about $40 million this year educate members and their allies and to raise the percentage of union and union-affiliated voters. Labor and its allies were one-fourth of the 2004 electorate. Two-thirds of them backed Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. Labor wants to increase its share of the electorate by several percentage points, especially in swing states such as Michigan, Missouri, Minnesota and Ohio.
"We will play the largest role we've ever played in electing the candidates we've endorsed in many of the pivotal, competitive races for the House and Senate," AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said at a pre-Labor Day news conference detailing the federation's election year program.
Most, but not all of labor support is going to Democrats. Unions are neutral in the re-election race of Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.). She beat a 36-year GOP incumbent in 2004, with union support, in a pro-GOP district. Bean then became one of the "CAFTA 15" in 2005 - 15 Democrats who got the ire of unions for supporting the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Her present GOP foe says he would have voted against CAFTA.
Overall, however, "we're having a harder and harder time trying to find Republicans to support who support some of our issues. The Right Wing has taken over the leadership of the
Republican Party," said AFSCME President Gerald McEntee.