Embattled New Orleans unions fight to rack up Clinton votes

NEW ORLEANS – Ever since Hurricane Katrina devastated this city in 2005, the labor movement here has battled right wing attempts to exploit that devastation.

This year unions and their allies here are adding to their list of battles a push to rack up the largest possible vote for Hillary Clinton in November.

Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO President Robert “Tiger” Hammond admitted, however, in an exclusive interview Sept. 21st with the Peoples World, that it’s not going to be easy. “In the old days,” he said, “It was normal for 20 percent of our union members to go over to the other (Republican) side…This time I see as many as a third going over.”

“And that’s not because they really are deep-believing Republicans,” interrupted Al Bostick, the political director of Local 130, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Bostick sat with Hammond and two PW reporters at the Venezia restaurant on N. Carrollton Ave.

“Many of them are working people who are hurting and they are sick and tired of feeling that their pain is not being addressed. It’s an anti-establishment thing. They see Trump as anti-establishment, even though he is no such thing.”

Bostick said that this is a “change” election and workers who feel things are not getting better for them want change. “You saw it in both parties. With the Democrats it’s why Bernie Sanders did so well with his populist appeal. He came so close in fact to being the nominee.”

“But that’s not the only thing,” Hammond said. “For some people it’s prejudice. They fall for the rhetoric blaming immigrants or minorities.”

Asked what he tells union members when trying to get over these problems, Hammond said:

“We explain that whatever you think about Hillary, nothing is more important than the issues – whether its prevailing wages, the right to union representation, health care, good public education, a livable union wage, regulations for food safety, good public parks and libraries – all the things families need – Hillary has the program. Trump will throw all of that out. There is no choice, we say, it has to be Hillary.”

Bostick added: “Even if we take back the Senate this time, we can lose it again in two years and if Trump is president you will have the House, the Senate, the White House and the Supreme Court all controlled by anti-labor Republicans. They would be able to put us back in the Dark Ages.”

When asked who would actually carry Louisiana in November, Hammond predicted: “It’ll be 60 -40 in favor of the other side (Trump).”

“Two months ago I would have said Hillary had a chance of winning Louisiana,” Bostick chimed in, “but with all the free media attention to Trump’s rhetoric and all the free campaigning they do for him I think I agree now with Tiger.”

Then why campaign for Clinton? “Because we will carry southern Louisiana big time for Clinton,” said Hammond, which he said will help labor and progressives win some local races in that region. “And on that note, we’ve already had some big election wins for labor here in Louisiana.”

Hammond was referring to the election this year of John Bel Edwards, a populist Democrat, as governor of the state. “Edwards will be the first to tell you that it was labor support that was critical in getting him elected.”

Edwards defeated David Vitter, the former right wing U.S. Senator who sought the governorship upon the exit of former Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal who was term limited out.

Hammond boasted about Edwards having announced his intention to run at a labor-backed fund raising event in New Orleans where he said unions raised some $18,000 for the insurgent Democratic campaign.

Bostick described the various factors that helped Edwards to victory. “First you had a scandal-ridden David Vitter, the anti labor Republican who had disgraced himself, then you had Democrats who had been misled into at first backing Jindal coming back home. And then you had Edwards running a strong populist campaign upstate and a strong labor campaign in New Orleans.”

After Katrina in 2005, groups like the teachers whose union was destroyed under the reign of then-Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco, were lured into backing Jindal who turned out, of course, to be totally in the hands of people pushing private profiteering solutions to the rebuilding of New Orleans.

“He was privatizing everything,” Bostick said, which “really slowed and prevented recovery for the majority of the people.”

Hammond and Bostick were asked whether Edwards’ election has paid off for working people. “Of course it has,” said Hammond. “On Day One of his term Edwards signed Louisiana fully into the Affordable Care Act program, lifting the ban Jindal had put on acceptance of federal funds for health care for the poor. Already 200,000 poor people in Louisiana have medical care now, as a result. So you see our election work makes a difference, a big difference. You will see us out there every day between now and November 8.”

Describing the election work, Hammond and Bostick said discussions are held at job sites and there are phone banking operations and door knocking campaigns, as is the case involving AFL-CIO unions in other states across the country.

What of the national race? Hammond, boasting that he has never in his life called a national election wrong, said this:

“Hillary Clinton is our next president. She had a big lead after the convention and now you see the normal narrowing in the polls. Here in Louisiana and all across this great country of ours that very narrowing is going to bring out a huge vote for Hillary. Everyone who is voting for her will call friends and relatives and get everyone out. She will win by six points at least. You will see. But don’t wait to see, get out and make it happen!”

Photo: Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards at the House Chambers. Max Becherer | AP


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.