Organized labor is making certain Barack Obama and other
Democratic candidates will have plenty of foot soldiers to help them round up
votes on this year's campaign trails.
The AFL-CIO has already launched what is likely to be the
biggest and most intensive political mobilization in labor history. The
federation is hoping to play a major role in electing Obama president and in
electing enough other Democrats to create a "worker-friendly
Thousands of volunteers, many going door-to-door, are
slated to spread the word among union members and others. They'll be speaking
urgently of a need to replace anti-labor President George Bush with pro-labor
Obama rather than anti-labor John McCain, and to increase the Democrats' Senate
margin by enough to block Republican filibusters of pro-labor legislation.
Labor aims to turn out more than 13 million voters -
union members, their families, retirees and others - in two-dozen key states,
where volunteers also will campaign for labor supporters who are seeking state
and local offices.
The AFL-CIO isn't going it alone. It's being joined in
campaigning for Obama and in developing other common political strategies by
members of the rival Change to Win federation. That powerful group is made up
of seven unions, including some of the country's most militant and influential
unions, that left the AFL-CIO in 2005 over policy and operational differences.
For now, the labor forces are concentrating on Obama, who
has promised to be one of the best friends unions have ever had in the White
The feelings are mutual. The AFL-CIO says Obama "has
advocated a change of direction for our nation that mirrors the priorities of
the labor movement .... He has vowed to fight for working families and for an
economy that works for all - and he has the record to prove it."
Obama's record includes his work as a community organizer
helping workers who'd lost their jobs in the closing of steel mills, as an Illinois
state senator sponsoring legislation to expand health care and protect workers'
rights to overtime pay and as a member of the U.S. Senate whose voting record
is rated as 98 percent favorable to labor.
"And all along," the AFL-CIO noted, "he's
marched on picket lines and rallied with striking workers."
High among Obama's many specific promises to labor is
what Steelworkers Union President Leo Girard hailed as a plan "to
revitalize American manufacturing and make workers the top priority in any trade
As Girard said, Obama opposes the current Central
American and Colombia Free Trade Agreements because they subject U.S. workers
and their employers to unfair competition. He says he'll insist that any new
agreements call for fair and equal treatment of workers here and in the other
countries signing the agreements.
Unions are particularly impressed with Obama's pledge to
ensure that women workers, who are generally paid less than men and often
denied equal treatment otherwise, "are treated like the equal partners
But of overriding importance to labor is Obama's
unequivocal support for the proposed Employee Free Choice Act. It would give
workers the right to unionization that's been denied millions of them because
of government opposition and the weakness of the labor laws. The act's key
provisions would greatly increase fines for employer violations of workers'
union rights and automatically grant union recognition on the showing of union
membership cards by a majority of an employer's workers.
And that's not all Obama promises. He says he'll do
whatever else it might take to "strengthen the ability of workers to
organize unions." He supports labor's attempts to prohibit employers from
permanently replacing strikers and the attempts to raise the minimum wage and
index it to inflation so it would rise as the cost-of-living rises.
He promises to try to reverse decisions by the
Bush-appointed majority on the National Labor Relations Board that have taken
union rights from thousands of workers and says that, unlike Bush's appointees,
his appointees to positions dealing with unions will support workers' rights.
Defeating John McCain is as important to labor as
electing Obama, for McCain's stand on key labor issues is the opposite of Obama.
There's of course no guarantee that a President Obama could do or would even
try to do all that he's promised labor, but it is certain that a President
McCain would guarantee labor at least four more years of angry futility.
Copyright 2008 Dick Meister