Conn. machinists rally for Ned Lamont

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — “This campaign has become a crusade for machinists all across America,” declared R. Thomas Buffenbarger, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, at a Labor Day weekend rally here for Ned Lamont’s bid for U.S. Senate.

“I am so proud the Machinists in Connecticut and the teachers had the vision and guts to fight for it and win,” he said, referring to Lamont’s upset victory over Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Aug. 8 Democratic primary.

The Sept. 3 labor rally, held in the Machinists union hall across from the huge East Hartford Pratt and Whitney plant where workers build aircraft engines, was also in support of three Democratic candidates for House of Representatives who have a good chance of defeating Republican incumbents.

The aerospace workers had decided early on to support peace candidate Ned Lamont. They were angry about Lieberman’s support for the war on Iraq. They were also angry after a delegation of their leadership went to see Lieberman in Washington to object to his support for trade deals without labor or environmental protections, and Lieberman arrogantly kicked the workers out of his office.

Thanking the Machinists for their support “from Day One,” Lamont said his program for universal health care, public education and good jobs “gave people something to vote for, not just against.” He added, “We need a senator who is not going to play footsie with the administration.”

Lamont, recognizing the presence of workers from the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. who lost their jobs last month when the company decided to move elsewhere for higher profits, said, “Bush is driving the country into a ditch and we want a change.”

Turnout in the Aug. 8 primary was the highest in the state’s history. The Democratic Party gained 30,000 new voters, including 1,500 first-time voters and 1,500 who switched from “unaffiliated” to Democrat to be able to vote in the primary. Voters were driven by their opposition to the war in Iraq and Lieberman’s ties to the Bush administration.

In a fiery speech, Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), just returned from the Gulf Coast, asked, “How can it possibly be that the wealthiest nation cannot put the Gulf Coast back together in over a year?” Referring to the federal government’s positive role in responding to the devastating hurricane that hit Connecticut in 1938, Larson said the difference in response was Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

“FDR said the other side of the aisle was frozen in the ice of their own indifference,” he said, suggesting much the same is true today.

“Carry this message everywhere,” he said, calling Connecticut “ground zero in the fight to change Congress.” He pledged that with a Democratic majority “we will turn the country around in the first 100 hours. People need relief now.”

In the packed hall, over hamburgers and hot dogs, union members signed up for weekend labor walks to talk with co-workers and their families about the urgency of this election.

Buffenbarger’s visit here was part of a five-state tour to launch the union’s JUICE campaign, which concentrates on key pocketbook issues of Jobs, Utility rates, Insurance premiums for health care, Commuter woes and Educational equity.

Several gubernatorial campaigns are also being singled out as part of the effort. Since Labor Day, at least 1,500 union members have posted their names on a web-based “speakers wall” (www.RallyAround.us) pledging to vote for gubernatorial candidates who represent their needs on Nov. 7.

In addition to the IAM and the teachers union (AFT Connecticut), the United Autoworkers, the Service Employees, a Teamsters local and the Connecticut Education Association have endorsed Lamont. Other unions are still considering their endorsements.