At a press conference Sept. 1 attended by more media outlets than any recently held by the labor movement, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka declared that “the elections this year come down to a choice between leaders who stand with working people or those whose right-wing agenda will choke off economic recovery and put corporations back in the driver’s seat.”
The annual Labor Day press conference was the setting at which the giant labor federation outlined its plans for what observers say is perhaps one of the largest and most aggressive mobilizations of workers in memory for a fall election.
Union members are working in more than 400 contested races in 26 states.
Trumka told representatives of the nation’s media that “the 2 million fliers already given out at 300 worksites are only a small prelude to a much larger push in the fall.”
Several announcements at the press conference showed that he was serious when he said the mass leafleting was only a “prelude.”
AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker declared that “the AFL-CIO will be a major partner in the Oct. 2 mobilization for “One Nation Working Together.” On that day hundreds of thousands are expected to gather in the nation’s capital for a march and rally for jobs and economic justice.
The federation also announced that the AFL-CIO will run Labor Day TV and radio ads in key states during Major League Baseball games, NASCAR races and college football games.
Answering questions from several reporters about the content of the ads, Trumka said, “The ads running this Labor Day Weekend celebrate working people who are the backbone of our nation and the power of working together for a stronger America.” The ads will be aired during baseball games on both Sunday and Monday, during the Sunday Pep Boys Auto 500 race and during the Monday night opener of NCAA football.
Trumka said, “This is a defining Labor Day for workers and the kick-off to the final round of a defining set of elections. 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.”
In a slap at what he said was the “false patriotism” of the tea party and many of the right-wingers, Trumka said, “People are looking for economic patriotism. While patriotism has traditionally been defined by foreign affairs, it should begin in our own backyard, in our own communities. Workers are looking for economic heroes – champions who will put themselves on the line to create a better future for our children.”
As it has done at almost all of its major media events since the last national election, the federation introduced real workers with real problems to the assembled members of the press.
Trend McNutt, an unemployed member of the Painters union from Toledo, Ohio, told the reporters why he was concerned about the 2010 elections.
“I’m on track to make a third of what I made last year but things are looking up,” he said. “We can’t afford to turn back. We need to elect people who support us and not the super wealthy. We can’t afford to put people in office who will forget about the middle class.”
Laura Jackson, a Communications Workers of America member from Moberly, Mo., said “We need to make sure that the people making the decisions make jobs their top priority. I’m going to do all I can to make sure that this is what happens Election Day.”
At another point in the press conference AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler discussed labor’s engagement with young workers. She said they would be a key part of the federation’s election program and also said the labor movement, through Working America, is reaching out to workers without a union, many of whom, she noted, are the “so-called swing voters.”
Trumka was asked whether he was discouraged about either the tea party or polls that show Republicans gaining support among voters. “When workers are presented with all the facts,” Trumka said, “they always make the right choice. Because we have such a good election program I am confident when I say there will be no House Speaker Boehner.”
When asked if labor failed to understand the importance of deficit reduction to the process of job creation he said, “All this talk about the deficit is misplaced. To solve the deficit problem long term you first have to create jobs.”
Another reporter pressed Trumka further on the tea party and whether he saw it as a threat to the labor movement. “Hateful rhetoric and divisive racism is a threat to workers and to all Americans,” he said. “If the tea party wanted to create jobs, we would welcome the idea of working together. Hate rhetoric and racism, however, hurts the fight for jobs and it hurts the whole country.”
“This election is about a lot more than just who comes to Congress in January,” Trumka said. “It will define who we are as a nation, whether we are a nation that respects workers and rewards work.”
AFL-CIO Labor Day ad:
Photo is a still from the AFL-CIO ad (AFL-CIO)