Labor says enough to GOP sideshows

‘It’s not guns, gays and Palin — it’s the survival of U.S. workers’‘

A united labor movement this week fired several shots aimed at drawing attention to real election issues that the Republicans want to bury with flimflam.

The first shot was fired by the 700,000-member Machinists union at its convention in Florida, Sept. 8, when it delivered an unequivocal endorsement of Barack Obama following a strong appeal by Hillary Clinton.

“This union is not half-hearted with its endorsements,” said IAM President Tom Buffenbarger, who was an early and vocal supporter of Clinton throughout the primaries. “When we go in, we go all in. We will have boots on the ground in every state to make sure our members understand that Barack Obama is the best chance in a generation to reclaim the American Dream for working families.”

The IAM endorsement of Obama is significant, observers note, because it showed the Machinist delegates were not diverted by the weeklong Republican/media barrage of spin. Nor were they sold by the GOP efforts to appeal to “Reagan Democrats” on the basis of “wedge” issues rather than the economic ones that workers want something done about. The Republicans would have considered it a great victory had they been able to keep a major industrial union out of Obama’s camp.

The IAM endorsement is significant on a practical level because many of its members vote in the key industrial states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. McCain has appeared in all of these states and the GOP is using his selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate to try to deflect attention from the real issues related to the economy and the war in Iraq.

A second shot was fired by Gerald McEntee, political action director of the 10-million-member AFL-CIO, when he said the following day that “the labor movement understands that the Republicans continue to use everything they can — first it was guns and gays, now it’s all the attention on Sarah Palin — to divert the people from the fight ahead.

“We are staying focused,” he told the World in a phone interview. “This latest action by the Machinists gives us a historic first — a united labor movement with everyone on board to elect Obama. It is no exaggeration to say we are now united fully and we have the best grassroots operation in our history. We are out there telling our members that the issues are jobs, trade policies that work for our people, peace, and the right to organize unions.”

McEntee, who is also president of the 1.4-million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), said he was confident that labor could reach people with the message that “McCain voted 90 percent with George Bush. All of us united, the AFL-CIO, Change to Win, the unaffiliated unions and all the community and other groups we work with, are out there with the only message that counts — Obama has a 100 percent record as far as the people of this country are concerned.”

At the Machinists convention, the more than 2,600 delegates rose to their feet repeatedly during Clinton’s remarks. They stood, roaring approval and applauding for several minutes, when Clinton asked that they support Obama’s bid to beome president of the United States.

The enthusiastic delegates represented workers in the airline, aerospace, manufacturing, railroad, woodworking and shipbuilding industries.

Mark Ayers, president of the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department, is another labor leader who represents workers whom the Republicans would like to win over to McCain.

Ayers supports Obama and has said he backs Obama’s plan for creation of jobs that can’t be outsourced. At a Sept. 9 press conference, Ayers declared, “Clearly, the most obvious way of dealing with a recession and unemployment is to invest in the building and repairing of our nation’s infrastructure. Such spending puts money in the pockets of working people.” He added, “These are jobs you can’t outsource.”

jwojcik@pww.org