Nation’s labor leaders meet to mobilize for 2012 elections

ORLANDO, Fla. – Leaders of almost every labor union in the country are arriving here today for a special meeting of the AFL-CIO Executive Council to launch the labor movement’s program for the 2012 elections. That program will undoubtedly involve a strong commitment by labor to re-elect President Obama.

The labor leaders are also intent on coming out of their gathering this week with clear plans for both rebuilding the economy in a way that works for the majority and a plan to reach out to communities that go well beyond the confines of the labor movement itself.

The mood of the arriving labor leaders is upbeat, and probably for good reason. Despite the unprecedented attacks on the labor movement by Republicans this year, unions and their allies have had some unprecedented success.

In Wisconsin, they defeated two GOP state senators who backed the attack on collective bargaining rights by that state’s extremist Gov. Walker, and, after collecting over a million signatures they have forced him into an unprecedented recall election.

In Ohio, the labor movement succeeded in winning the support of an overwhelming majority of the state’s voters to overturn the anti-labor SB 5 law passed by that state’s legislature.

Labor, just last week, was a major force in pulling off a dramatic voting rights, workers’ rights, and immigrant rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

The press is expected to receive briefings on planned election work from Mike Podherzer, Director of the AFL-CIO Political Department, David Boundy, director of the federation’s campaign department, and Karen Nussbaum, Director of Working America. Millions of non-union members across the country now belong to her group and are expected to play a major role in the 2012 elections.

Major unions in the AFL-CIO have already endorsed President Obama for reelection and the executive council is expected to lay the groundwork this week for an AFL-CIO endorsement of his re-election bid.

Randi Weingerten, president of the American Federation of Teachers is expected to be on hand with a plan to step up the fight against education cuts. Weingerten has led a campaign against the teacher bashing that has become so fashionable in right-wing circles.

The federation can also be expected to put forward a jobs agenda that not only supports the President’s proposals, but goes well beyond them. Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers, has been pushing for massive programs to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure and strike out into the field of clean energy.

Sources say the unions will also push hard for a plan to stop the bleeding of jobs in the public sector. The latest reports from the Labor Department show that while there is growth in employment in the nation recently, public sector jobs continue to be cut.

The labor leaders will, of course, tackle the Republican attack on voting rights. Voter I.D. laws enacted all over the country by Republican state legislators, they say, would disenfranchise five million people, primarily the poor, minorities, and students.

Arlene Holt Baker, the federation’s executive vice president and the highest-ranking African American labor leader in the country, has made this her priority. She just helped lead the march from Selma to Montgomery. Also heavily involved in mapping a plan on voting rights that will be announced this week are Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America, and Fed Richmond, vice president of the United Steelworkers.

The labor leaders will spend as much as half a day discussing ways to organize and reach out to communities beyond the labor movement itself. They don’t engage in this discussion as novices. They do it after a year in which unions have forged strong alliances with civil rights, immigration rights, and voting rights groups. There have also been major breakthroughs forging alliances with non traditional labor organizations.

Photo: Supporters of Wisconsin workers demonstrate in opposition to Gov. Scott Walker.   Gene J. Puskar/AP


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is editor in chief at He started as labor editor of the People's World in May, 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.