Labor to mobilize 400,000 volunteers for 2012 elections

WASHINGTON – The AFL-CIO’s executive council on Thursday gave final approval to a plan to deploy at least 400,000 union members to work on the re-election of President Obama, keeping the Senate out of the hands of the GOP and taking the House back from Republican control.

The plan was announced here by Jeff Hausner, who emphasized he was speaking with the full authority of the labor federation.

If unions succeed in deploying that number of volunteers, it will be what one labor leader described as the “biggest army of ground troops we have ever put out for an election.” In 2008, when President Obama was elected, unions turned out 250,000 volunteers nationwide.

In addition to deploying more volunteer troops than last time, the political plan approved by the executive council involves an organized effort to reach more non-union members than ever before.

In the key battleground states, Hauser said, the expectation is that the number of non-unionists will exceed the number of people in unions who are reached by the union election volunteers. Efforts to reach non-union members will be carried out under the auspices of Workers’ Voice, labor’s new SuperPAC.

Worker’s Voice is the labor movement’s alternative to the multi-billion-dollar SuperPACs set up by big businesses and billionaires after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision allowing unlimited corporate spending on elections. Workers Voice will allow unions to campaign among non-union members “but not with the millions of dollars that the corporations have,” Hauser said. “What we will have is the ground troops, the boots on the ground.”

People in the AFL-CIO’s political department hope that labor’s edge in the “ground game” will enable labor to defeat the big-spending business and trade associations which have traditionally outspent unions by margins of 10 to 1 during election campaigns.

In another move, aimed specifically at denying Republicans a chance at control of the Senate, the AFL-CIO executive council also voted Thursday to add Massachusetts to its list of battleground states. The decision was made because of the closeness of the race between Democratic nominee Elizabeth Warren and incumbent GOP Sen. Scott Brown.

The Brown-Warren race, a labor leader from Massachussetts said, “really should not be this close, but it is. Brown makes himself look like he is really an independent when we know that this is not true. He rides around in a pickup truck making himself look like a friend of workers while trying to portray Warren as an out-of- touch Harvard professor. The opposite is true and we are going to make sure voters realize that.”

The other six batttleground states are Florida, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Participants in the executive council meeting made it clear that the labor movement will not limit election activity to these seven states.

The federation, its Working America affiliate and its SuperPAC, Workers Voice, will be involved in 20 other states according to Hauser, who noted that Working America, the federation’s non-union affiliate, has just added North Carolina and Minnesota to its list.

The political plan approved Thursday also maps activity for union volunteers in closely contested Senate races, including labor support for endangered Democrats like Sherrod Brown, in Ohio, Claire McCaskill in Missouri and Ben Nelson in Florida. In Nevada the unions will mobilize for Democrat Shelley Berkley. They will push in Virginia for Tim Kaine and in Wisconsin for Tammy Baldwin.

Also part of the plan is an operation aimed at taking back from Republicans more than the 27 seats need to wrest control of the House from the tea party extremists. Unions will mobilize to protect endangered pro-worker incumbents in some cases, Hauser said, and in other cases they will back pro-worker individuals contesting for open seats.

Photo: mjb_leo // CC 2.0


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.

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.