Biggest labor presence in history at  Dem convention in Denver

DENVER — Union members are arriving here by the tens of thousands for the Democratic National Convention and they are coming by train, plane, automobile, bus and even on foot. Thousands will participate in labor actions outside the convention and tens of thousands of them will be among the crowds that pack the Mile High Stadium on the night of Aug. 28 to hear Barack Obama’s acceptance speech.

If that’s not history enough, one in every four of the convention’s 4,200 delegates are union members themselves, both active and retired, or members of union households. By all accounts it is the heaviest labor presence at any major party political convention in the history of the United States.

Some of the unionists who are delegates were here already by Aug. 21 — well before the official Aug. 24 start date. While some were able to fly in and book rooms at hotels many had to drive and are sleeping in spare rooms or on spare floor space offered by friends or volunteers here.

One delegate from the battleground state of Alaska loaded up her car with provisions in Juneau and drove the 2,60-mile stretch from there.

Alaska, her point of origin, which has long been considered a Republican state, is in play for the Democrats this year because of scandals involving almost every Republican holding statewide office.

Cindy Spanyers, who was still making her 2,600 mile journey from Alaska to Denver on Aug. 22, said in an interview with an AFL-CIO blogger the day before that what motivated her to make the trip was “the dire need to do something about jobs and health care. Trying to make it into the middle class has become impossible,” she said.

Spanyers is an Obama delegate elected from Alaska’s only congressional district, and a member of the Alaska Public Employees Association.

She described herself as a “strong supporter of Obama because he has a program to create jobs, end the stagnant wages and fight for a fair deal for working people. He also understands the need to have strong unions and make it easier for people to join unions.”

Spanyers says it is her intention to talk to everyone she can, inside and outside the convention, about the need to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. The bill, which passed in the House last year but was blocked in the Senate, would make it easier for workers to form unions. It replaces the current system of company-rigged “elections” with a card check system that requires employers to recognize a union as soon as a majority indicate by signing the cards that they want to be represented by the union.

John Clark, a member of Local 1 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, is one of 17 labor delegates here from Missouri, another battleground or “swing” state.

Talking to the same blogger, he said that he was excited about the convention because he sees “so many people coming together to turn this country around.” He told the World that “without organized labor this very important job would not be able to be accomplished. Labor has a special ability to fight for and build up the kind of unity we need to defeat the Republicans.”

A special labor caucus will be held August 24, the day before the convention opens. All 1,050 labor delegates are invited and at the gathering they will discuss ways to put forward the issues important to the labor movement, including jobs programs, the Employee Free Choice Act, fair trade and health care.

The AFL-CIO will sponsor a major economic forum entitled, “All boats Rising,” during the convention.