ORLANDO, Fla. – A big stocky guy with a neat salt and pepper mustache and thick matching hair, looking very much like the coal miner he was in his early years, made his way into a packed press room during the AFL-CIO Executive Council meeting wrhere reporters from all over the country were waiting.
The man was Richard Trumka, former coal miner and now president of the AFL-CIO and chief representative of its 12 million firefighters, teachers, nurses, miners, electricians, entertainers and others. He explained to the nation’s press why the leaders of almost every union in America had just decided to endorse the re-election bid of President Obama.
“As president, Barack Obama has placed his faith in America’s working men and women to lead our country to economic recovery and to our full potential as a nation,” Trumka said. “With our endorsement today, we affirm our faith in him – and pledge to work with him through the election and in his second term to restore fairness, security and shared prosperity.”
The decision by the AFL-CIO’s 57 unions was a unanimous one and, according to Trumka, President Obama spoke directly to federation leaders after the endorsement, expressing appreciation and agreeing to make the fight for jobs the top priority.
A Wall Street journal reporter wanted to know why the endorsement was so strong an endorsement, considering that labor has not always been satisfied with the pace of change during the president’s first term.
“President Obama has made a complete pivot since a year ago when he was caught up in the deficit debate,” Trumka said. “Since last Labor Day he has been talking about jobs, wealth inequality and the centrality of rebuilding manufacturing. We may have had disagreements but we never doubted that President Obama is a friend of the working men and women of America.”
The choice was even more obviously the only choice that could be made, said Trumka, when the Republican opposition to Obama is considered.
“Just look at Romney,” Trumka said. “He said he made $640,000 speaking but said that it wasn’t a lot of money. How out of touch could he be?”
Trumka outlined what he said was a second major reason for the Obama endorsement:
“When Bush was president he was the first president who left office with less jobs in America than when he took office. The things these Republicans want to do today are exactly the things Bush did then. What sense does that make?”
“The coming election is about values,” Trumka said. “President Obama honors the values of hard work, of mutual respect, and of solving problems together – not every person for himself or herself. He believes that together we will get through the most challenging economic crisis in memory and restore opportunity for all.
“Each of the Republican presidential candidates, on the other hand, has pledged to uphold the privileges that have produced historic economic inequality and drowned out the voices of working people in America.”
Trumka described the labor movement as “the original social network – a working class social network – and this year the unions of the AFL-CIO will be mobilizing working people to come together to organize our neighborhoods door to door, powered by cutting edge technology and old-fashioned energy. We will be running an independent program rooted not in parties or candidates but in helping working people build power, making informed decisions about which candidates at every level to work for based on records and issues.”
Photo: President Barack Obama delivers remarks on energy, March, 15, in Largo, Md. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP