Unions election drive means TV, money and troops

A mother holds a baby boy on her lap. She says: “Hi, John McCain, this is Alex, he’s my first.

“So far, his talents include trying any new food and chasing after our dog.

“That, and making my heart pound every time I look at him.

“So, John McCain, when you said you would stay in Iraq for 100 years, were you counting on Alex?

“Because if you were, you can’t have him.”

The powerful TV ad just described is now being viewed by millions across the nation and is the result of a joint effort by the 1.4-million-member AFSCME, the largest union in the AFL-CIO and MoveOn, the 3-million-member progressive grassroots Internet organization.

AFSCME belongs to the AFL-CIO which is the largest labor federation in the nation. AFSCME endorsed Barack Obama for president on June 18, just as its ad began to be viewed by millions.

The federation voted to endorse Obama on June 26 after it completed a canvass of board members representing its 56 constituent unions.

It had remained neutral during the primaries because its rules require that member unions representing two thirds of the federation’s membership must agree before a candidate can be backed. Many of the constituent unions backed Hillary Clinton in the primaries but most have since switched to Obama.

The joint labor-MoveOn ad reflects what AFSCME President Gerald McEntee described as “labor’s deep concern about the legacy of John McCain’s foreign policy. Union members are frustrated that we’re still in Iraq five years after Bush and McCain said it would be quick and easy and they see first hand the war’s toll in blood and treasure.”

Dramatic TV ads are only a tiny taste of what AFSCME and the AFL-CIO have in their arsenal for the election battle.

AFSCME alone plans to spend $50 million on the election and to mobilize more than 40,000 of its members as activists for the fall campaign. The AFL-CIO, however, expects to spend a total of $200 million on the presidential and congressional elections. These figures represent an unprecedented financial commitment by unions in a U.S. election.

The nation’s other major labor federation, Change to Win, has also endorsed Obama and has promised to spend millions in its election effort.

McEntee, whose union had endorsed Hillary Clinton in the primaries, explained why it was now endorsing Obama. He described an early morning June 18 meeting labor leaders held with the Illinois senator. McEntee, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and American Federation of Teachers President Ed McElroy were at the gathering with Obama.

McEntee reported that Obama assured the group that he would be tough in negotiating trade treaties and that labor rights and environmental standards would be bottom line essentials in any deals. McEntee also said that Obama had put forth positions on universal health care and education that all the unions supported.

Obama, according to McEntee, committed not just to universal health care but to extending the health care plan that now covers lawmakers to millions now lacking private coverage if the broader health care overhaul is not immediately achievable.

Almost immediately after AFSCME’s endorsement, and prior to the federation’s endorsement, Mark Ayers, president of the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Department announced his department’s unanimous decision to back Obama.

“It came down to a choice between McCain, who embraces the disastrous economic and foreign policies espoused by Bush or the candidacy of Barack Obama, where concerns of workers are placed front and center,” Ayers declared.

McEntee responded to reporters who questioned whether Obama could win among male blue collar workers. He pointed out that Obama had won among these workers in many states, and said Obama would win this group even in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and western New York where Clinton did well in the primaries.

“Given the opportunity to communicate with these voters, Obama can relate with them”, McEntee said. He pledged that his union will work hard in all of those areas, just as it had for Clinton. “We will talk economic issues in the working-class areas of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia,” he said.

The AFL-CIO endorsement is expected to have a major impact in those states.

The nation’s largest union, the National Education Association, is slated to endorse Obama at its July 2-4 convention in Washington D.C. Reg Weaver, the union’s president, has already called upon the 9,000 delegates expected to convene there to make the endorsement. He had said, in April, that McCain’s economic proposals would amount to a spending freeze that would harm public schools.

Backing from the NEA is coveted by candidates because the union has politically active members in each of the 50 states and it has a record of convincing voters to support education-related struggles. The NEA recently played a key role in defeating a right-wing school voucher scheme in Utah, long considered one of the “reddest” of red states.

jwojcik @pww.org