Category Archives: afl-cio

An Incredible Article about ‘Unions for Edwards’–written about 1 year too late

Found this incredible article on Huffpo the other day: The Glorious Future that American Unions Walked Away From, by Ian Welsh. Absolutely spot on analysis of why US unions should have supported Edwards, and how they are basically screwed because they didn’t. Several persons mentioned in the piece’s comments section that they were forwarding the piece to their union president. This is great info for them to get regardless of whether or not they’ve already endorsed Obama or Clinton.

From The Glorious Future that American Unions Walked Away From, by Ian Welsh:

With the right President, and the right NLRB, the union movement can have it’s renaissance, it’s 11th hour resurrection. Without it, unions may dwindle into the long, long night. And that wouldn’t just be a tragedy for union members: because of how unions raise the boats of all workers, the decline of unions would be a tragedy for America.

All of the Republican candidates would be awful for labor, and differ only by the degrees of the horror they would unleash.

Amongst the Democratic candidates it’s safe to say that Hilary Clinton, who has as her main advisor a union buster and whose husband did very little for unions, would be a largely status quo President. Her board would be decent, she’d be bad but not awful on trade, and she wouldn’t sink a lot of personal capital into union issues.

As with many things with Obama, it’s hard to determine how good or bad he’d be, but one has to have their doubts about a Democratic candidate who argued that union advertisements in Iowa were unacceptable, and who acted as if union money were the equivalent of corporate money. Certainly there are those who see unions and corporation as little different–but they aren’t friends of unions.

John Edwards has spent the last four years working with unions, walking their picket lines and making their cause his. He’s clearly the most pro-union of the three remaining candidates; his primary issue is economic justice and he believes that corporations have too much power. His campaign, from the very beginning, was predicated on union support.

But unions didn’t reciprocate.

Lists of major union endorsements make this clear. AFL-CIO unions predominantly endorsed Clinton, and in fact more major unions endorsed Clinton than anyone else, with Edwards coming in second in the endorsement stakes. Most recently Nevada’s largest union, the culinary union endorsed Obama and is working hard for him in that key swing state.

Now let’s imagine a world in which labor had taken a strong stand and endorsed the candidate who was most pro-labor, John Edwards. Edwards came in second in Iowa, behind Obama by 8%. It is hard to believe that if unions had come in, say 4 months ago, and used their ground machine (still, even today, probably the best organizing machine in the Democratic party) that they couldn’t have swung the election 8 points.

And here’s the thing–neither Clinton nor Obama, should they win now, will feel a massive debt to Labor. The endorsements were useful and appreciated, and they helped. But they weren’t desperately needed. The payback will be a slightly better NLRB, but not enough to save American labor.

But an Edwards presidency would owe everything to the unions, and John Edwards would know it. And he would have campaigned with an explicitly pro-union campaign–if he won the nomination, and later the presidency (don’t forget his electability numbers are far better than Clinton’s and as good or better than Obama’s), he would come into power with a pro-union public mandate.

I wish this piece had been written a year ago. And I wish organized labor wasn’t as swayed by the corporate media as it seems to be. The media has tried its damnedest to bury, then ignore, Edwards while simultaneously elevating Clinton and Obama, the money candidates. And their anti-Edwards campaign seems to be working.

Unions are still very beneficial to the american worker, but decades of anti-union administrations have cowed or crippled even the most powerful of them. 30 years of hostile Republican and Republican-lite (Bill Clinton) administrations have hamstrung unions and weakened collective bargaining. Look at the contract the auto workers at GM just had to accept. Screw the retirees with a union-managed health care that is sure to be underfunded by management. Screw new employees by creating a tiered system where all union workers aren’t equal–i.e. different pay scale and benefits (listen closely and you can almost hear Orwell’s pigs: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”).

The union I’m a member of, the APWU (American Postal Workers Union, under the larger umbrella of AFL-CIO), isn’t going to endorse a candidate in the primaries. The reason? Bill Burrus, the President, decided its better to sit on the fench and see which way the wind blows:

As a member of the AFL-CIO Executive Committee, as well as the federation’s Executive Board, I have participated in several discussions related to political endorsements. The AFL-CIO constitution requires a two-thirds majority to officially endorse a candidate, and at this time sufficient support has not been achieved for any candidate.

. . .

A candidate who supports fair trade as opposed to cheap labor and corporate profits often provides little more than good theater during the primary season. The mere fact that a candidate has a “good position” on the issue does not guarantee change. There are so many other factors that must be considered.

While it is important to support a candidate who supports policies embraced by workers, we hope the primary process will result in a progressive candidate who also has the best chance of succeeding in November. Regrettably, media coverage does not lend itself to thoroughly addressing the pertinent issues. Too often we are left simply asking what candidates favor and oppose. Many of the candidates will appeal to us on some of the issues important to working people, but being for something does not make it happen. John Kerry was opposed to NAFTA, but so what: How has that helped working people the past few years?

For about a minute I struggled to understand whether Burrus is right with his pragmatism, or whether Welsh’s “all in” for Edwards would’ve worked. I’m with Welsh–and Edwards. “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take thing anymore”. Time to go ALL IN. I hate that the APWU #1 guy is so disillusioned as to think a populist candidate is simply “good theater”. Burrus regrets endorsing John Kerry in 2004. So do I, Dean was a superior candidate to Kerry in every way, and unions should’ve had his back in the 2004 election.

Despite my anger and my assertions, uniting unions behind one candidate would be like helding the proverbial cats. But let’s run the “perfect world” scenario, where all the unions rally behind Edwards. Even in that perfect world, Burrus has an unhappy spin on what that would mean:

The president and the NEB do speak on behalf of the American Postal Workers Union: Consistent with the principles of the APWU constitution, we have the right and the responsibility to publicly express support or opposition in the political arena, on the basis of labor’s agenda.

Our expression is not intended to be the voice of each of the 280,000 APWU members, who are free as American citizens to exercise individual political rights. We merely fulfill the responsibility of our constitution:

“To engage in legislative, political education, civic, welfare and other activities which further, directly or indirectly, the joint interests of the membership of this Union in the improvement of general economic and social conditions in the United States of America.”

280,000 union members, 280,000 voices and views. In the building where I work, it becomes clear how true Burrus’ point that he speaks for the union as a whole, not the individual members. There’s a large number of Bush/Cheney bumper stickers on cars in the employee parking lot. The “water cooler” wars are in full effect–I should know, I’m the token “bleeding heart liberal” in my work area and I’m barraged by Limbaugh “logic” daily. I would say a good 60% of my co-workers are completely apolitical, 20% are wingnuts and 20% are liberal/progressive. Getting these folks to agree on anything is next to impossible.

I’m voting Edwards on Feb. 5, and I’m educating/cajoling all who’ll listen to me to do the same. I don’t believe its a wasted vote or a lost cause. I’m a longtime Red Sox fan. I never give up, no matter how long the odds, especially if the cause is just. I saw the hometown team come back to win the World Series after being down 3 games to none to the Yanks in 2004 and 3 games to 1 to Cleveland in 2007. If the Sox can win 2 World Series in 4 years after a 80+ year drought, than Edwards has a shot. Eventually the talking heads on the TV will insist Edwards can’t win and demand he drop out of the race one time too many and the underdog lovers will rally to his cause. At that moment, anything is possible–even a APWU endorsement.

Joe638NYC at Joe’s Union Review has another response to Ian Welsh’s piece here.
More of Joe638NYC’s posts at Union Review.

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Filed under 2008 presidential election, afl-cio, apwu, huffington post, ian welsh, john edwards, union, william burrus