Rethinking Labor Union Endorsements

By David Swanson

Labor unions declined to send a message on their issues or to move other candidates to their positions by backing Kucinich, but it has now become clear that they could have backed Kucinich, and he could have failed just as badly, and labor would have accomplished no less (possibly more) than it accomplished by lining up behind Clinton, Edwards, and Dodd, all of whom have lost to Obama. And Clinton, Edwards, and Dodd could have saved the energy they spent courting labor, for all the good it did them.

Some labor unions put their resources into issue campaigns, such as the California Nurses’ push for single-payer health care. But why should any candidate care, as long as the union is not supporting or opposing any candidates, and with the efforts of unions who do support candidates proving so impotent.

None of this means unions won’t provide substantive help to Obama in the general election. They will, and it might even make the difference. But MORE help could be offered if unions considered why their powers are so weak. The main answer, I think, is that the power of the corporate media is so incredibly strong. So, here’s my proposal: Instead of investing hundreds of millions of dollars of working people’s money in ads for Obama that enrich Disney, GE, and Viacom, labor should take this opportunity (this ocassion of having a non-labor guy nominated) to look elsewhere. I don’t mean look to another candidate or party. I mean, instead of funding the corporate media, take all that money and create a people’s television network that actually reports the news. The result would be a far greater benefit to Obama’s campaign, but that would be the least of it.

Here’s an AP story on the situation:

Obama Win Shakes Up Labor
By Jesse J. Holland
The Associated Press

Saturday 05 January 2008

Washington – Despite racking up almost all of the endorsements from organized labor, Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Edwards came in behind Barack Obama – the only Democratic front-runner with no national union support – in the Iowa caucuses. That left at least one union looking for a new candidate Friday.

International Association of Fire Fighters President Howard Schaitberger called the support for Obama “breathtaking,” after seeing his union’s candidate, Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., falter in Iowa and drop out of the race. Despite the money and the manpower organized labor shifted to Iowa for Clinton, Edwards and Dodd – one union ran television ads for Clinton while another shifted workers in-state to stump for Edwards – Obama still won convincingly.

“The tsunami was far greater than we could attempt to hold off,” Schaitberger said.

Schaitberger said he talked personally with both Obama and Clinton on Friday. But the firefighters would not immediately endorse, he said. “Sometime after March, we will begin to reevaluate the remaining candidates,” Schaitberger said.

Union support is supposed to be key to winning the Democratic presidential primary, with their money and foot soldiers playing key roles in the early voting states. For example, the political arm of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which has endorsed Clinton, spent at least $250,000 to air television ads in Iowa urging her victory.

While the Service Employees International Union has not made a national endorsement – “We will make an endorsement when there is a presumptive nominee, but it is too early for that,” SEIU spokeswoman Stephanie Mueller said Friday – its local chapters have split their endorsements between Clinton, Obama and Edwards.

The Iowa and New Hampshire SEIU locals are supporting Edwards, spending more than $2 million trying to get people in those two states to support the former North Carolina senator. Those resources are now being shifted solely to New Hampshire.

“In the next few days until the primary, SEIU members will engage in a massive get-out-the-vote program to ensure that workers in New Hampshire turn out in unprecedented numbers on January 8,” said Jay Ward, president of the SEIU New Hampshire State Council.

Fifteen percent of New Hampshire Democrats identify themselves as members of union households.

Following New Hampshire, the next major union state on the calendar is Nevada, where the 60,000-member Culinary Workers Union, Local 226, is the biggest political powerhouse.

Obama, Edwards and Clinton have been campaigning hard for the Culinary Workers Union support, since the local’s national organization, UNITE HERE, doesn’t immediately plan to endorse anyone in the Democratic field.

New Hampshire and Nevada are the last union-centric states that vote before February. Clinton and Edwards need a victory or a close race to keep up with Obama leading up to the February primary calendar.

Clinton is rallying her major labor supporters in Manchester on Saturday along with her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and the heads of the American Federation of Teachers, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers and others.

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