Edwards, Obama Promise To Walk Union Picket Lines Even After Taking White HouseBy Mark Gruenberg, PAI Staff Writer
CHICAGO (PAI)--In rousing pro-worker speeches to a packed hall of 1,000 unionists, two of the top three Democratic presidential hopefuls--Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.)--promised to walk with union picket lines even after they are elected to the White House.
Edwards and Obama were greeted with roars and ovations by the delegates to the Change to Win convention, meeting in downtown Chicago. The third top contender, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), also gave a strong pro-union speech--not including that particular pledge--but was forced to talk via speakerphone after her plane, along with hundreds of others, was grounded on the tarmac at the Little Rock, Ark., airport.
The three hopefuls are among seven vying for support from the 7-union 6-million-member federation, while also campaigning for support from the rest of the labor. CTW Chair Anna Burger said no decision was likely from the entire federation until after the February 5 round of primaries. The other four Democrats were not invited.
One CTW union, the Carpenters, has already endorsed Edwards. The Carpenters, including President Doug McCarron, were notable for their small presence--verging on invisibility--at the CTW conclave. They were neutral in the 2004 election.
Edwards, sounding more like a preacher than a trial lawyer, turned on the crowd repeatedly by reminding them of his strong support for union workers and their causes, even in daunting circumstances, such as the United Food and Commercial Workers’ struggle to unionize the 5,000 workers at the Smithfield pork-processing plant in Tar Heel, N.C. All three also opposed free trade pacts without worker protections.
Edwards noted he walked 240 picket lines for 23 unions--and his wife Elizabeth was even then walking with United Auto Worker pickets in Grand Rapids, Mich. GM forced UAW to strike, from Sept. 24-26, over several issues, including health care.
Smithfield workers, Edwards said, toil in 100-degree temperatures “with drinking water that is so tainted they have to put in Gatorade to kill the smell. But most people in America have no idea of what working conditions are like” at Tar Heel and elsewhere.
“So here’s what I have to say to all of you who are trying to earn a decent wage and have good working conditions: You are not alone. I’ll be with you every step of the way and I’ll be with you on the picket line when I’m elected president of the United States,” he declared.
All three also touted their pro-worker credentials in other ways, with Edwards repeating his pledge to “go out on the White House lawn” to tell Americans about the importance of unions to creating and preserving the middle class. He also reminded the crowd that he told the same thing “to 4,000-5,000 people at the Chamber of Commerce in Sacramento, not exactly your friendly audience.”
And when it came to passing the Employee Free Choice Act, which would help level the playing field between workers and bosses in organizing drives and in bargaining, Edwards said he would “use my political capital” for the bill. “And if we’re having trouble in particular Senate races and congressional races getting it passed, I’ll go to every one of those places and campaign for EFCA,” he declared.
Obama, a Chicagoan, reminded the crowd he started work 20 years ago as a community organizer, helping Steel Workers who lost their jobs when mills on the city’s South Side closed. “I’m not a newcomer. I didn’t discover working folks on the campaign trail,” he commented--without saying which of his foes did.
Obama blasted the GOP Bush regime as “the most anti-union administration in history.” He then stated that “if a majority of workers want a union, they should get a union,” referring to a key EFCA provision: Enshrining card-check majority recognition of unions in labor law, rather than at the employer’s discretion.
And after taking a swing at Wal-Mart, and mentioning the bill he co-sponsored in September to end companies’ “independent contractor” dodges, Obama returned to workers’ rights by declaring: “If your rights are being denied, I don’t care if I’m in the U.S. Senate or the White House, I will walk with you.” He got a standing ovation.
Clinton also strongly backed EFCA, saying she would “use the bully pulpit” of the presidency to push the bill. “I’ll travel the country, hold events, and explain the importance of unions even for those who are not unionized,” in order to push EFCA through, she said through the speakerphone.
All three hopefuls also touted their health care legislation and tried to draw differences between the plans. Edwards noted his bill was the only one where there’s a way to pay for its $90 billion-$120 billion cost, by repealing the Bush tax cuts for the rich. Obama said his bill guarantees coverage for all kids but not adults, because kids don’t have choices, but parents do.
Clinton said her plan is not government-run and would guarantee coverage--for those who do not want to keep their own health care plans--equivalent to the coverage Congress has. Congressional coverage gives lawmakers and staffers reasonable premiums and a choice of doctors. Clinton and Edwards would order individuals to buy insurance, with Edwards subsidizing the purchases by the poor.
Press Associates, Inc. (PAI)