WASHINGTON — Bruised but unbowed by labor’s failure to oust George W. Bush in the Nov. 2 election, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney told a news conference here that the movement will “fight like hell” to stop Bush’s ultra-right agenda in his second term.
“Yesterday’s election was breathtakingly close. There is clearly no conservative mandate for our nation,” Sweeney said. The people reject Bush policies of outsourcing jobs, privatizing Social Security and are demanding affordable health care, he said. Sweeney spoke at a crowded news conference at AFL-CIO headquarters the day after the vote.
“America’s union members came out in huge numbers and voted overwhelmingly for the candidate who had their issues at heart,” Sweeney continued. He warned against a “rush to judgment,” calling on election boards across the country to “count every vote cast in this election. That is the message from the nightmare of 2000. Record numbers of voters stood in long, long lines yesterday to make their voices heard. … We must count their votes.” He was referring to places like Ohio, where hundreds of thousands of provisional ballots must be verified and counted.
Sweeney hailed the success of the AFL-CIO and its affiliates who turned out 27 million voters, or 1 in 4 of the ballots cast, 2-to-1 for Kerry. “Our program was the biggest ever. I traveled to nearly every swing state over the past three months and I’ve never seen our members so energized.”
He praised labor’s unity both with other trade unionists and with the larger anti-Bush coalition that mustered just slightly more than 55 million votes for Kerry. It was the margin that delivered battleground states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin for Kerry, he said.
Union members knocked on more than 6 million doors and passed out 32 million leaflets on the job and in their neighborhoods. “No matter who is in the White House on January 21st, we’re going to take that energy, that momentum, that technology, that field operation and start right now building a movement that will keep turning this country around,” Sweeney concluded. “We can’t let the policies of the last four years stand and we won’t.”
Sweeney introduced union members like Daniel Meehan, a member of the Service Employees International Union in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, who said he was stirred to action by the rising crisis of abuse and neglect of children in families with little or no income.
Another issue, Meehan said, was Bush’s war in Iraq. “My two sons are active duty in Iraq and probably face further deployment.”
African American steelworker Ralph Myers, a veteran of 34 years in the mills, said he had been assigned to mobilize Black voters. African American turnout was high and gave 90 percent of their votes to Kerry.
“We fell a little bit short but we did an excellent job,” he said. “Labor 2004 should not end. We should have Labor 2005, Labor 2006. We’re going to keep their feet to the fire!”
The AFL-CIO’s political director, Karen Ackerman, pointed out that unionized workers are only about 13 percent of the workforce, yet 27 percent of voters identified themselves as union members or members of union families. In Ohio, labor mobilized 36,000 volunteers, 26,000 in Pennsylvania, and 11,500 in Wisconsin.
“Union members are ready and willing to do it again,” Ackerman said. “They have the experience and the know-how. We have just begun to fight!”
Peter D. Hart and Associates released their post-election survey showing that 65 percent of union members voted for Kerry, 33 percent for Bush. In Ohio, 67 percent of union members voted for Kerry. And 63 percent disapprove of Bush’s job performance while 68 percent are dissatisfied by the state of the economy. Of top voting issues, 42 percent named the economy, 40 percent the war in Iraq, 24 percent health and prescription drugs and only 24 percent terrorism.
The night before, union activists gathered in the lobby of the AFL-CIO to watch the election returns. AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Linda Chavez Thompson told the World, “I’ve been living out of a suitcase the last three months and it is probably the most exciting period of my life.”
On one trip she flew to El Paso, Texas; Las Cruces, N.M.; Las Vegas and Denver, with big enthusiastic rallies at every stop. “There was so much enthusiasm among our members,” Chavez Thompson said.
“So many people were volunteering. There was such a high level of sustained energy like that Energizer bunny. I saw in this election the entire labor movement bonding as one. I’ve never seen such camaraderie before. It was happening in all these cities. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things.”
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