President Obama will speak at the AFL-CIO Convention in Pittsburgh on Sept. 15, the White House announced yesterday.

The speech will once again dramatize the new relationship between the labor movement and the Oval Office, following as it does, private meetings, bill signings and other ceremonies to which the president has invited many of the nation’s top labor leaders.

In contrast, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, during the Bush administration, entered the White House only once late in 2008 for a dinner in honor of Pope Benedict XVI. He was invited because he was on a list of prominent Catholics. For the most part, however, Bush ignored unionists while his administration was busy attempting to destroy the labor movement.

The announcement by White House press secretary Robert Gibbs that Obama will address the convention did not include information about what the president will discuss.

Labor leaders expect that the economy and health care will be high on the agenda and that the president will reiterate his support for the Employee Free Choice Act.

The president will speak just after the expected election by the assembled delegates of Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka to the presidency of the federation. Trumka, 60, is running unopposed to succeed the 75-year-old Sweeney who has headed the federation for 14 years.

Sweeney said Aug. 31 that a major focus of the labor gathering in Pittsburgh will be the drive to get Congress to approve comprehensive and affordable health care reform. The AFL-CIO’s support for that goal and its backing of a public health plan option are goals it shares with the Obama administration.

Sweeney made his remarks at a picnic in Washington that welcomed a “health care bus” that AFSCME, the federation’s largest union, has had crossing the country, building support for health care reform.

Support for health care reform is strong in the labor movement, with many unions wanting to go even further than a public option and calling for government-run single-payer insurance which would eliminate private insurance companies from the health care business altogether. The American Federation of Government Employees is the latest of some 70 labor bodies, including state federations, central labor councils and international unions that have filed resolutions with Trumka’s office calling upon the AFL-CIO to support single-payer insurance.




John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.