Unions, Civil Rights Groups
Starting Big Political Push
By Mark Gruenberg
Press Associates, Inc.
The Newspaper Guild
July 16, 2010 – Traditionally, people don’t start paying attention to politics until Labor Day, but that isn’t stopping unions from starting their big political push now.
The push is taking two forms. One is that unions are sending members out to worksites, with flyers about labor’s positions on key economic issues, such an unemployment benefits and the stimulus law, along with lawmakers’ voting records. That drive will last for at least the next two weeks and continue afterwards.
The other part of the push has been led by the Service Employees, building on a grand coalition that helped win health care reform — and again emphasizing grass-roots efforts. They’ve been joined by the Teachers, the AFL-CIO and approximately 170 other progressive groups in a grand coalition, “One Nation Working Together,” to push a progressive agenda this fall — even when the Obama administration doesn’t.
Invariably, politics and economics get tied together, as AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka made clear when he announced the first two weeks’ worth of the federation’s education drive. The first installment will be in 23 states, and will involve distribution of at least 300,000 pieces of literature at 164 worksites. Details of what the political drive will involve after that are still being worked out.
“If politicians want the support of working families in November they need to create good jobs here in America now. People aren’t interested in campaign slogans or promises, they want results. If politicians are fighting for working families then we will work our hearts out for them. If they aren’t delivering and think they can take our support for granted then they may be awfully lonely come November,” Trumka warned.
The same emphasis will be at One Nation’s Oct. 2 mass rally in D.C., says spokeswoman Lorena Chambers. “The rally will be about jobs and job creation, with labor and human rights organizations coming together about that issue,” she adds.
AFT President Randi Weingarten blew the cover of the coalition when she announced on July 7 that the Teachers would be a big part of the D.C. rally. Before that, the leaders will formally unveil the coalition at an Aug. 3 press conference.
“The big issue is good jobs, fair jobs, legal jobs and more jobs,” Chambers adds. But that’s not all. The coalition, which also includes the NAACP, La Raza Unida, the U.S. Student Association and the Center for Community Change, is also campaigning for comprehensive immigration reform and fixing the financial system. And it’s campaigning “against the obstructionism” of the GOP and its allies, she noted.
“We’re demanding the change we voted for,” says SEIU 1199 President George Gresham, whose health care union was a prime mover behind the coalition’s formation.
But the coalition also made it clear that while it’s going to try to recapture the enthusiasm and spirit awakened among unions, workers, students, progressives, women and minorities by the 2008 Obama campaign, it isn’t going to be a rerun.
Indeed, its members were dismayed by the Obama campaign’s decision to, in so many words, mothball its organization. The coalition members decided they’d better act on their own on the political issues involved — even if Obama doesn’t come along.
“We are affected by and care about the same issues that everyday people care about,” Weingarten said. “That’s why this October we will march on Washington. AFT will be a full partner in the One Nation March on Washington organized by a broad range of civil rights, labor, faith, youth, immigrant rights and other progressive organi-zations. This march will highlight the need for an America that focuses on good jobs, good public education, taking good care of our environment, and immigration reform.”
And the NAACP served notice it will be extremely active in the political drive when its convention in Kansas City passed a resolution supporting the political drive — and denounced the racist strains of the Tea Party. The Oct. 2 rally will kick off a month of intensive campaigning, organization, get-out-the-vote drives and other activities by the coalition’s members, Chambers said.
And in words that could equally apply to the other 170 members of the political coalition, Weingarten added: “This is not simply about marches for us, as important as they are. This is not about street actions, as important as they are. This is about fully embedding ourselves in our communities.
“The words in this hall mean nothing if not translated into action,” Weingarten concluded.
The Newspaper Guild