ORLANDO, Fla. - The nation's top leader leaders emerged from a week of meetings here focused on the 2012 elections and told reporters from outlets all over the country that unions will raise what they described as "an army of 400,000" to pull out the vote and to guard the election at polling places next November.
"At stake," declared Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America, "is nothing less than our democracy itself.. What the labor movement intends to do," he said, "is magnitudes greater than anything we have ever done in an election before."
Cohen brushed off suggestions by reporters that new, tighter election laws rammed through by Republicans in states across the nation would make it difficult for unions to do what they promise. "We know their game," he said, they even have tried to criminalize voter registration - something that was always considered an act of good citizenship. We will not be deterred. If necessary we will be arrested, if that's what it takes, to register voters - if that's what it takes to protect democracy."
"We will match the tea party disrupters at the polling places where we know they plan to intimidate voters, " said Arlene Holt Baker, the AFL-CIO's executive vice president.
Holt Baker said that right wing groups around the country are scouring voter registration lists looking for every possible way to block the vote in November for President Obama and for pro-labor legislators and senators.
The tea party groups, like the so called "Election Integrity" group in Maryland match names on the voter rolls to all kinds of other databases, including property tax information, arrest records or anything else they can find. Similar groups are at work in at least 30 states.
"We will work with our allies and coalition partners to stop this form of vote suppression," said Holt Baker.
Judith Browne, co-director of one such partner, the Advancement Project, said her organization and many others will work with unions to watch the right wingers hanging around the polls. She described the so-called "watch groups" as "nothing more than voter suppression posses."
"True the Vote" in Texas, another such group, was started by the King Street Patriots, a tea party group in Houston. Election Integrity Maryland was started by similar groups up there.
Every one of the 57 unions belonging to the AFL-CIO will have a coordinator responsible for of election activity. Union volunteers will dovetail their efforts with the campaign of President Obama and with the campaigns of pro-labor representatives and senators. They will focus initially on six states, Nevada, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida where they believe they can have the greatest impact.
The plan is to later expand, the union leaders said, to every state above the Ohio River and the Mason-Dixon line, plus Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Montana, Florida, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, California, Washington, Oregon and North Dakota.
"We can't write checks for ten and thirty million," said Holt Baker but "what we can do is engage in intensive, deep, one-on-one conversations between the 400,000 unionists going out there and voters, in their workplaces and at their doors.
The labor leaders said the volunteers will carry out intensive conversations, one on one, with white working-class voters, a group narrowly lost by Obama in the last election. "All working class voters, not just white men, will be more open to messages about the economy," said Holt-Baker, "when those messages come, not from TV ads, but from someone they trust - their fellow workers."
There will also be a drive to make sure no union member in the country is unregistered to vote - currently the unregistered union members are at 20 percent.
"Our role in this election is to make sure that workers see it as making the correct choice about the better path to restoring the economy and about fighting for themselves," said Mike Podhorzer, director of the AFL-CIO's political department. "We want them to see that much more than just a referendum on the performance of President Obama this election is a choice about the entire future of the nation."
Photo Vice President Joe Biden launched the Obama-Biden re-election campaign March 15 at a union hall in Toledo, Ohio, one of six concentration states for the AFL-CIO. Madalyn Ruggiero/AP