Labor Launches Massive Electoral Effort. Will Dems Return the Favor?

Roger Bybee

In Miami, local labor unions and Democratic politicians organized a get out the vote rally on the grounds of Jackson Memorial hospital on Oct. 18, the first day of early voting for Florida residents.

Labor is waging an all-out battle to preserve Democratic majorities in Congress, an impressive effort outlined in a memo by AFL-CIO Political Director Karen Ackerman.

AFL-CIO members have already made 23.6 million phone calls, distributed 175 million leaflets, and held member-to-member conversations in 4,000 workplaces. Labor also has at least 40,000 members in 37 of the 75 most-hotly contested House districts. Particularly important is labor’s ability to use direct member-to-member contacts, because such personal conversations convey information coming from a trusted source.


The exertions by the AFL-CIO are especially critical to the Democrats this year because of the vast, unrestrained and undisclosed corporate contributions that the Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads are using for attack ads against Democrats. Labor’s help is thus more important than ever, as the NY Times reports (although note the way it ridiculously equates as outside forces” the unlimited corporate funding with the grassroots efforts of millions of unionists):

President Obama and the Democrats have spent much of the last several weeks complaining about outside groups — mostly financed by big business and wealthy donors — that they believe are interfering in campaigns across the country.

But by their own admission, the Democrats are relying more than ever this year on another outside force to help even the playing field: organized labor.


Labor also realizes that if the Republicans capture the House, they will block every stimulus effort in the name of fighting the deficit.

Without a new stimulus from President Obama for the economy, we are virtually certain to see the excruciatingly long and destructive recession stretching up to the 2012 election. This will exact a horrendous human toll in lost dreams, lost lives — from heart disease, alcohol and drug abuse, suicide, and intensified violence in both the tension-wracked homes and the mean streets of desperate blue-collar and poor communities.

Further, President Obama’s chances for re-election will be severely hurt, with the potential for the Republicans nominating their most extreme presidential candidate ever.

But with so much riding on the election, you almost have to hope that working people are too busy doing electoral work to read the newspapers. There have been some positive developments, such as roughly two dozen Democrats running ads to highlight Republican support for public tax deductions for the cost of moving jobs overseas. Had the Democrats waged a high-profile battle on this issue for the entire year, in my view, much more of the public would be blaming corporations for the persistence of the recession.


The NY Times reported back on June 26 that the Obama administration will be seeking passage of a new free trade” agreement with South Korea in the November lame-duck session. The White House had been planning this despite knowing that it will risk angering labor unions” right after the crucial mid-term elections.

As tone-deaf as Obama’s political advisors have proven so far, Obama’s debt to labor for so much heavy lifting for November 2 would seem to rule out this capitulation to Corporate America. But will the Obama administration learn a broader lesson about how to sustain and activate its base?

The White House’s increasing appreciation for labor will hopefully be coupled with an understanding that it must mend its ways; its supporters need real sustenance in the form of actually delivering to labor and other key constituencies.

Paul Waldman argues that Democratic activists share 

a growing sense that the White House doesn’t have much affection for the Democratic Party’s base of liberal supporters. Republicans have always been better at the care and feeding of the base; when they are in charge, they work hard to convince the foot soldiers of the right that they’re with them.

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Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and University of Illinois visiting professor in Labor Education.Roger’s work has appeared in numerous national publications, including Z magazine, Dollars & Sense, The Progressive, Progressive Populist, Huffington Post, The American Prospect, Yes! and Foreign Policy in Focus.More of his work can be found at zcom​mu​ni​ca​tions​.org/​z​s​p​a​c​e​/​r​o​g​e​r​d​bybee.
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