BAL HARBOUR, Fla. – America’s workplaces and working class neighborhoods are the front lines of the 2004 battle to rid this country of what many describe as the most anti-worker president anyone can remember, according to labor leaders gathered at the March 9-11 meeting of the AFL-CIO Executive Council here.

U.S. unions have rolled out their most well-funded and scientifically targeted campaign ever, eight months earlier than in the 2000 election cycle. “The program is in full swing,” AFL-CIO Political Director Karen Ackerman told reporters.

Despite media buzz about NASCAR dads and soccer moms, “Union households are the key to the 2004 elections,” said federation President John Sweeney.

What’s new this year is the strategic targeting of “swing voters” among union membership. By overlaying up-to-date membership lists with selected demographic data, union numbers crunchers can identify where to concentrate their efforts. The swing voters are getting special attention with information on issues that have been identified as important to them.

Miami-based Flight Attendants/CWA Local 2 has identified 63 swing voters among its 481 members, Local President Patrice Anderson told the council. Those voters have already gotten union brochures on two key issues: Bush’s plan to cut eligibility for overtime pay, and workers’ collective bargaining rights, according to a report from Press Associates, Inc.

Labor’s election plans for 2004 start with building on the achievements of 2000 when 26 percent of voters came from union households, more than double the fraction of union members in the electorate. Sixty-three percent of these voted for union-endorsed candidate Al Gore, according to election night polling by Hart Research Associates.

Plans are to significantly increase both Election Day turnout of union members and the percentage of union voters marking their ballots for the union-endorsed candidate.

A live video from St. Louis of an up-and-running union phone bank brought a beehive of activity into the Council meeting. A succession of volunteers put aside their phones to report to the Council on their sophisticated operation, which combines worksite distribution of fliers, home visits, and petitions with the phone calls. Further, “Every time Bush or Cheney come to town, we’re there to meet them,” said Grant Williams of SEIU 2000. “We’re feeling good about beating Bush,” he added.

Another initiative of the AFL-CIO is the launching of Working Families, the federation’s newest affiliate. Working Families’ membership is open to working people who do not have the benefit of a union on the job, says its executive director, Karen Nussbaum. Neighborhood-based, with local offices in Cincinnati, Cleveland, St. Louis, Kansas City, Tampa, and Seattle, Working America already has 100,000 members, reports Nussbaum, and aims for one million by Election Day.

Dozens of youthful canvassers for the Miami project of Voices for Working Families traveled across town to greet the Executive Council meeting. Working seven days a week in the Liberty City section of Miami, these door-to-door canvassers are registering hundreds of voters a day, Dorothy Townsend, the Miami project’s dynamic director told the World. Voices for Working Families is one of an array of labor-initiated voter registration, mobilization and education projects that are up and running in “battleground states” such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and Missouri. Voices for Working Families has created programs tailored to reach African American and Hispanic communities as well as the women’s community, where registration is down, said Arlene Holt Baker, the group’s national president. Each program is headed and run by respected and experienced people who come from the targeted communities.

Organized labor’s multifaceted education-mobilization network is already flexing its muscles, deluging President Bush with half a million letters and e-mails protesting his administration’s attack on overtime pay.

At its meeting, the AFL-CIO Executive Council unanimously approved a 48 cent per member contribution to mobilize union members this election cycle, bringing its total financial commitment up to $44 million. Nevertheless, they expect to be outspent by big business even more heavily than the 12 to 1 ratio registered in 2000, according to Sweeney. But “early grassroots activities indicate we are well on our way to a steady and victorious march to the White House this fall,” Sweeney predicted. “People are fed up with this administration’s inability to create good jobs and get our country back on track,” he added.

The author can be reached at rwood@pww.org.

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