Unions To Mark Labor Day With Big Election Push For Dems, Despite Trade Misgivings

One of the nation’s largest union organizations plans to observe Labor Day this year by starting a major mobilization to help Democrats in the midterm elections.

Politics, of course, is nothing new for organized labor. Gone, though, is a sense of optimism and buoyancy within the labor movement that helped it propel Barack Obama to the White House in 2008 is missing.

This year, the efforts of the AFL-CIO have more the feel of a rescue mission given the bleak prospects predicted for Democrats at the polls in November.

The venerable labor federation, which represents some 11.5 million workers, says it plans to mark Labor Day with weekend events in more than 200 communities highlighting good jobs and launching the final two months of grassroots mobilization for the fall elections.

AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka also announced TV and radio ads running on Labor Day weekend in key markets during Major League Baseball, NASCAR, and college football games.

“This is a defining Labor Day for working people—and the kick-off to the final round of a defining set of elections,” says Trumka. “We will either rebuild a fundamentally different economy that values hard work and a strong middle class—or turn back toward one that puts corporate interests before people.”

Trumka has spent recent months criss-crossing the United States, speaking with union members nationwide. He delivers very much the same stump speech, such as a recent event in Minneapolis, acknowledging the deep anxiety, even anger, they feel over the nation’s dismal economy. Trumka, though, argues that President Obama and congressional Democrats are their true allies, and urges dispirited union members to channel their anger into working for Democratic candidates in the November elections — not against them.

Trumka defends the president and his policies, despite disagreements with the administration, most recently over trade policy with China.

The AFL-CIO was but one labor organization which recently expressed disappointment with Obama’s Commerce Department to address more forcefully the issue of China’s undervalued currency. Labor leaders and others argue that China purposefully manipulates its currency to undercut the United States in global trade, costing Americans their jobs.

“The impact on American workers, communities and manufacturers has been devastating. Ending this unfair trade practice and ensuring that currency values reflect market forces would result in the creation of one million U.S. jobs,” Trumka says in a statement issued this week. “It is time to take action to restore fair currency values.”

Rather than continue to wait for action by the Obama administration, Trumka entreats lawmakers to approve legislation to deal with China’s currency, the Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Act of 2010. Bills, Trumka notes, are pending in both the House and Senate.

Such disagreements, however, aren’t stopping the union from going all-out for Democrats at a time when the party increasingly faces political Armageddon in the November elections, and a growing potential for Republicans to re-take control of at least one house of Congress.

‘We Can’t Afford To Turn Back’

As a part of the AFL-CIO election program, union volunteers have already distributed almost 2 million flyers in a summer mobilization effort at over 300 worksites—a prelude to a fall push that will be many times bigger, the union promises.

“I’m on track to make a third of what I made last year but things are looking up. We can’t afford to turn back. We need to elect people who support guys like my dad and not the super wealthy. We can’t afford to put people in office who will forget about the middle class,” says Trent McNutt, an unemployed member of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) from Toledo, Ohio also joined a briefing about the election effort.

Laura Jackson, a Communications Workers of America (CWA) member from Moberly, Mo., talked about the mobilization by union families and why it’s so important. She says, “jobs and a good economy are the most important issues. I believe this election is even more important than the past elections because we can’t turn back. That’s why I plan to volunteer as much as possible for working people.”

Commenting on the determination of working people to find a way out of the bad economy and make things better, AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler detailed the AFL-CIO’s work over the past year reaching out and engaging young workers. Shuler says young workers would be a key part of the AFL-CIO 2010 political program. She also pointed to the work of Working America, community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, in engaging workers without a union on the job around economic and election issues, citing their work to mobilize jobless workers and women voters.

AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker says the unions will be a major partner in an Oct. 2 mobilization for One Nation Working Together as a part of the labor federation’s fall offensive.

“We’re fighting for working families—and the Tea Party and its corporate backers are not going to get the final word,” she says. “The AFL-CIO is proud to be joining with a diverse coalition of civil rights, religious, human rights, environmental and other progressive organizations as part of One Nation Working Together rally in Washington and across the country on October 2. We are joining together with people from all across America because we are determined to build an America defined by greater unity – with jobs, justice and education for all.”

The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.

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