By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer
WASHINGTON (PAI) - Prospective Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) told more than 2,500 union leaders nationwide that "we can't do it without you" if he is to win the White House this fall and advance workers' causes when he gets there.
In a nationwide 15-minute conference call arranged by AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney, Obama, speaking from Iowa, reiterated his pro-worker positions, specifically twice mentioning his determination to push and sign the Employee Free Choice Act, the legislation designed to help level the playing field between workers and bosses in organizing and bargaining.
"If I'm elected president, I'll sign EFCA because if the majority of workers want a union, they should have one," he declared. "And we're gong to have a president who isn't afraid to say labor needs to be strong, a Department of Labor that works for workers and a National Labor Relations Board" that follows labor law, not management dictates, he added.
Obama also promised to "negotiate new trade agreements with worker rights in them, crate three million" new 'Green" jobs and create 2 million jobs "building locks and dams and roads." A lot of union workers, he noted, would get high-paying jobs "aboard those earth movers" and other construction equipment in those projects.
But, drawing on his experience as an organizer on Chicago's South Side - before he entered the Illinois Senate and the U.S. Senate - Obama warned the unionists that he could not win the election by himself. Grass-roots organizing, he said, is much more important and effective than top-down commands.
And the unionists' efforts would be doubly important, the senator said, because the GOP "doesn't have any new ideas, so they'll spend their time attacking me, instead." The attacks, from presumed GOP nominee Sen., John McCain (R-Ariz.), have already started.
"So we depend on you to tell them" - voters - "about where I am on workers' issues," Obama said. Those issues include not only EFCA but universal health care, the suffering economy and what to do about rising unemployment and foreclosures.
"It's a simple idea" that Obama wants the unionists to advocate: "We have mutual obligations towards each other" economically and elsewhere. "I am my brother's sister, I am your sister's kids." By contrast, the GOP idea is "you're on your own," he said.
Obama got a rousing ovation at the start of his call from a crowd jammed into the large hall at AFL-CIO headquarters, and Sweeney introduced him by saying that "it would be nice to look across the street" at the White House "and see we have a friend there" after eight years of GOP President George W. Bush.