Labor says ‘none of the above’ for now

The biggest U.S. labor federation said on Wednesday it was too divided to make an endorsement in the 2008 Democratic presidential race, but freed its member unions to back any of the contenders.

The executive council of the AFL-CIO, an umbrella group representing 55 national labor unions, said it could not reach the required two-thirds consensus needed to throw its grass roots and financial muscle behind an individual candidate.

Top Democratic contenders Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards all enjoy significant pockets of support among organized labor, making the two-thirds threshold too hard to reach, labor officials said.

“It is clear that a number of the Democratic candidates have the experience and credentials to lead our nation,” the 47-member council said after a meeting to discuss the endorsement. “And it is equally clear that our members support a number of the candidates.”

The decision came one day after the Democratic contenders in the November 2008 election squared off in a debate before 17,000 enthusiastic union members in Chicago, with Obama, a senator from Illinois, and Clinton, a senator from New York, taking fire from rivals and battling each other over foreign policy and the influence of special interests.

The AFL-CIO had asked member unions to hold off on endorsements until after the executive council meeting. Labor officials said some individual unions would be ready to start making endorsements in the next few weeks.


Officials also did not rule out calling the council back for another try at a full endorsement later in the year, but said it was unlikely a consensus would emerge before primary voting starts in January.

“Two-thirds is a very high bar … it’s hard to get,” said Karen Ackerman, political director of the AFL-CIO. “Different unions have different interests and look at candidates in a different way.”

The full AFL-CIO has made an endorsement ahead of the Democratic primaries only twice — in 1984 when it endorsed Walter Mondale and in 2000 when it backed Al Gore.

Ackerman said enthusiasm for the Democratic candidates was high among union members and much of the council meeting was taken up with pledges to unite and prepare for the 2008 general election campaign against the Republican nominee.

Union support can offer crucial organizational muscle for candidates but its clout was called into question in 2004, when the two Democrats with the biggest labor backing — Howard Dean and Richard Gephardt — were beaten in the kickoff contest in Iowa and collapsed later.

This year Edwards, the party’s 2004 vice presidential nominee who trails Clinton and Obama in national polls and is locked in a three-way struggle with them in the crucial kickoff state of Iowa, has pushed particularly hard for union support.

All of the 2008 Democratic contenders back the key union priorities, including an expansion of health care coverage, more protections in trade pacts and a bill to make it easier to unionize workers.

The labor movement has faced challenges in recent years, including declining union membership and the 2006 split in the labor movement that saw seven unions leave the AFL-CIO to form the Change to Win federation.

But Ackerman said organizers in 2006 mobilized more than 13 million voters in 32 battleground states and nearly three-fourths of those voters backed the endorsed candidates.

Labor officials promise to top the $200 million spent in the 2004 general election.


  1. nuQler Ostrich

    This is very perplexing.

    I watched the debate from beginning to end and it was obvious to me who won it.

    However, since he isn’t one of the media’s front-runners, he got ignored.

    The applause for him when he outlined the things he would do the first days in office was so huge that moderator Kieth Olberman tried to chastize the audience for their vocal support. It was as if he was saying, “Don’t take this candidate seriously. Because we in the media aren’t going to give him a chance, you should not listen to him.”

    The audience didn’t seem to get the message and they gave him round after round of applause. Applause for his policy positions on NAFTA, Health Care. Iraq, trade with China, and even laughed loudly at his one-liners.

    Any honest observer would have to admit that Dennis Kucinich, that little funny-looking guy over on the end, had the greatest support of all the candidates by the Union crowd of working Americans who attended the event.

    But don’t expect the only Union member on the list of candidates to get official Union support. [Dennis is a member of the CWA. He has kept his membership active for decades and last time I talked to him after the 2004 Dem convention, he still kept the card in his wallet.]

    And don’t expect the corprate profiteering media to acknowledge his win either. They’re too busy telling America who is electable. Don’t look over there, look here. look at Hillary. Look at Obama. Ignore those cheers from working class Americans.

    It truly is perplexing.

  2. Sandra Price

    Mr. Ostrich, I agree that Dennis won it! My main disagreement with him is his wanting a government health insurance system. I don’t trust the government. I could not take 8 years of Hillary’s voice. Dennis sparkels.

  3. gene

    I suspect that many were just tired,cynical and very pessimistic having lived with this current administration for so many years. I find myself not trusting anything that has to do with our government, expecially the words puked out of the mouths of politicians so easily.

  4. Steve Horn

    I agree with the above that Kucinich won the debate – but he’s not a “major candidate” according to the talking heads so he cannot be taken as a serious contender by them.

    I’m convinced that, once again, the Democrats will field a ticket that cannot be elected – as a party – in my not so humble opinion, they’ve tainted themselves through their congressional inaction and their inability to stand up to Bush. This taint of weakness will continue to haunt them, as a party, through the 2008 election season.


  5. vietnam vet

    vietnam vet

    To the media, Dennis is just another Jesse Jackson and Al sharpton. Most of the things he say is true, but this country will always pick someone that can tell the biggest lie, and then complain about him/her the next four years, because some of us were to lazy to do any research on the candidate before we voted. We took the word of the media, which is just as bad as the politicians. But I do pray that there is still hope for America.

  6. Jeffrey B.

    I applaud each of you who watched this round of the “debates”. Personally, as much as I am involved in the knowledge game and political activism – I can no longer stomach watching these orchestrated “events.” They have become as offensive as Junior’s almost daily appearances on the boob-tube – and what a bunch of boobs we American have become – letting politics become entertainment – and paying the price for the tickets.

    At the present time, whether the candidate is RepublicRAT or Demagogue, the title of this column says it all – ‘NONE of the above!’