The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, November 12, 2010

Trumka: unions to revamp political program but keep jobs target

By The Building Tradesman

(By Mark Gruenberg, PAI Staff Writer)

WASHINGTON (PAI) – Organized labor will analyze and revamp its political program “significantly” to see “what worked and what didn’t” after the landslide loss of the U.S. House in the 2010 election, AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka says.

But in a post-election telephone press conference on Nov. 3, after Democrats lost at least 60 House seats –  and their majority – the day before, Trumka reiterated that labor’s target would remain the same: “Jobs, jobs, jobs.”

Evaluation of the returns and of labor’s political plans started immediately, in an afternoon telephone conference call with state federation leaders and will continue with an AFL-CIO Executive Council meeting scheduled for Washington on Nov. 9.

Trumka and pollster Guy Molyneux dissected the returns after voters handed over the House speaker’s gavel to Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, and after Democrats lost at least six of their 57 U.S. Senate seats, with two races (1 D, 1 R) still too close to call.

Overall, the country voted 53-47 percent  in favor of the GOP in U.S. House races, exit polls showed. But the labor vote, Molyneux said, was 64-36 percent Democratic, slightly below unionists’ pro-Democratic showing in the prior three elections.

Molyneux could not provide the labor share of the overall vote. In 2008, labor and its allies – who went more than 2-to-1 Democratic – provided at least one-quarter of the total vote and one-third in key swing states, such as Ohio.

“Today, the fight begins all over again for working families,” Trumka said. He called the election “extremely disappointing for the millions of working families and hundreds of thousands of union volunteers” who pounded pavements, made phone calls and met workers at job sites to talk about the election.

But he also admitted the electorate is “angry” – “Something I’ve been saying all year,” Trumka noted – over the continuing Great Recession, lack of new jobs and its perception that the Democratic-led Congress did little if anything about that.

Union voters got over those emotions, Trumka added, after receiving information about achievements of Congress and the Democratic Obama administration to address the jobs problems: The stimulus law, reining in Wall Street, extended unemployment benefits, and other measures. But when a reporter asked him how that message could be communicated to the wider electorate, Trumka replied, “I wish I had the answer.”

The AFL-CIO chief admitted the 64-36 percent union voter edge for Democratic candidates, according to Molyneux’ poll, “was slightly lower than the last several rounds of elections.” But he attributed the union result – and its contrast with the national voting pattern – to the fact that union members “trust their unions” as a source of information. “We represent them every day,” Trumka said.

Not all of those unionists went the Democratic way, Molyneux’ poll showed. White working-class men gave the GOP a 28-percentage-point lead overall – and unionized white working-class men split 50-50, he said. That’s the same group Trumka, in a widely noted speech two years ago, had to convince to vote for Obama.

Trumka also stated the Republicans, having won the House, now have the responsibility “to help govern” and create solutions for workers’ economic ills. If they do, he said labor would agree and work with them.

Asked where such areas of agreement could occur, he rattled off four possibilities: Infrastructure investment, the Clean Water Act, a “clean energy” bill and a new highway-mass transit bill. All would create jobs now, he added. All would also particularly help cut joblessness in construction, which now stands at 40 percent  in some trades.

“We have a $2.2 trillion infrastructure deficit,” Trumka noted. “And if they (the Republicans) are looking to do some tax credits to create jobs, we would look at that, too,” he added.

Molyneux also had cautionary words for Republicans who think the election endorsed their agenda, which includes raising the retirement age, partial privatization of Social Security and tax cuts for the rich. All those ideas are widely unpopular, his poll of 801 voters – union and non-union – showed. That survey and Molyneux’ separate poll of 800 union voters each had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.

In the overall poll, he said, “84 percent were dissatisfied with the economy, including 56 percent who were very dissatisfied. And of that (latter) group, they went 70-30 percent Republican. And 28 percent said they or someone in their household has lost their job, while 40 percent have seen their hours of work or their wages cut.

“The real problem is those figures were combined with this: Only 30 percent thought the Democrats had a clear plan for creating jobs and strengthening the economy. But only 35 percent thought the Republicans have a plan for doing so.”