In The News
AFL-CIO Forum stirs presidential shocks, themes
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Labor Press
The AFL-CIO presidential face-off created undercurrents that may linger after this summer of forums has faded.
The event August 7 brought 15,000 union members to Soldiers Field in Chicago to hear the top seven Democratic presidential candidates. All were doing figurative backflips on the stage to prove their union credentials, which produced some media and blogger sarcasm. But at least there was more sincerity and track record in this AFL-CIO event than in the haste to embrace sponsors of so many other forums.
And this one wound up making more news. It broke new ground in the alliances and strategies unfolding on the long road the White House. These will be discussed in depth in the August Labor Press, but to touch on the major points:
1. As many expected, it led to an AFL-CIO decision the next day to not endorse a single candidate at this point and to free affiliated unions to make their own decisions. That open season in endorsements will have a potent impact on several primaries.
2. Unexpectedly, the stars were not the candidates but the workers posing some hard questions about broken pension promises and failure to protect jobs.
In their humanity, the workers and retirees became the media darlings, stating earthy realities that almost eclipsed a competent host -- MSNBC “Countdown’s” Keith Olbermann – and heralding the questions legislators faced on their August break.
3. In what was a strategic surprise to many, the AFL-CIO forum became the debut of a new tag-team approach in the presidential race. The candidates down the ladder sought to move up by taking shots at the two climbers just behind Hillary Clinton. Both Senators Joe Bidden and Chris Dodd had Barack Obama and John Edwards in their gunfights.
That allowed Clinton to emerge more strongly by not having to wrestle in the pit – and also allowed those under attack to get in some zingers.
In fact, all seven candidates zung well, which helps explain why two-thirds of the AFL-CIO unions couldn’t agree on one candidate, as required by the rules. It is a strong field.
4. This forum may have changed the tactics of the Republican hopefuls, who pounded the Democrats’ support of unions as a radical move to the left.
That may prove a bad mistake, since the discussions dealt with education and care for veterans, privacy concerns, getting our military out from the middle of a civil war, failed pensions and health benefits, outsourcing and rights at work.
That’s a pretty strange bunch of issues to paint as extreme, and may simply point out that the GOP field is way out of touch.
For a full discussion, check the August Labor Press, delivered to subscribers’ homes after Aug. 23.