Kowtowing to the throne of big labor

Democratic presidential candidates argued Saturday night that organized labor is an essential part of the nation’s economy whose troubles mirror the deterioration of the middle class way of life.

“The only way to reinvigorate the middle class is to reinvigorate the labor movement,” Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware told several hundred union members at a labor forum in eastern Iowa.

For all the candidates, it was one stop in a busy several days leading to a Sunday morning debate in Des Moines. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York leads the Democratic field in national polls and has pulled into a three-way tie in Iowa, where the first votes of the 2008 campaign will be tallied.

One of her chief rivals, former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, energized the crowd with his rebuke of Democratic candidates who accept donations from lobbyists. While he has done so at other forums, this time Edwards did not single out Clinton for raising tens of thousands of dollars from lobbyists.

“We are not the party of Washington insiders. We are the party of the people, and so from this day forward we say no ā€” no forever to the money from Washington lobbyists,” said Edwards, the party’s vice presidential nominee in 2004. “Their money is not good anymore.”

He singled out money tied to drug companies and health insurance companies. “I don’t represent those people,” he said. “I want to represent you.”

Clinton addressed the crowd first. “It was unions that organized workers, that gave them better wages and working conditions and benefits like health care and pensions,” she said. “And what is happening now is that the American middle class is under assault.”

The crowd thinned out after Edwards’ speech, leaving scores of empty seats for Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, who spoke third. The rest of the field spoke to mostly empty rows.

Obama said a Democratic president, backed by organized labor, can change Washington and protect the middle class.

“We need a president … who is not afraid to mention unions,” he said.

Biden said Republican are trying to destroy the so-called house of labor ā€” “the house the built the middle class.”

Labor organizations are critical to any Democratic candidate, particularly in Iowa where grass-roots organizing is key.

“I never once had to look over my shoulder and wonder whether organized labor and unions stood with me,” said Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., in a fiery speech. “I’m a union guy!”

Obama plans to attend fewer such multi-candidate events in the future, his campaign manager wrote on Obama’s 2008 Web site.

“We simply cannot continue to hopscotch from forum to forum and run a campaign true to the bottom up movement for change that propelled Barack into this race,” David Plouffe wrote. He added, “I think this approach will be better for the voters and the campaign.”

He said Obama was committed to five remaining debates sanctioned by the Democratic National Committee, two Iowa debates in December and one in Florida on Sept. 9.

Many of Obama’s rivals also have complained about the overwhelming number of multi-candidate gatherings and could follow suit

Earlier in the day, Clinton, Edwards, Dodd and Biden attended an event at a minor league baseball field where they ate boiled sweet corn and made their pitches to more than 1,000 people.

In central Iowa, Obama toured a city-owned utility plant to promote his energy policies. He said the country faces an “an urgent moral challenge” to reduce reliance on oil and needs a president willing to defy special interests in Washington that dictate energy policy.

Obama, casting himself an agent of change in a crowded field of White House hopefuls, suggested that he is voters’ best bet to shake up the status quo.

“We’ve got to have a president in the White House who sets bold targets and sets broad goals and isn’t intimidated by the barriers and the roadblocks and isn’t driven by those who already have an investment in the status quo ā€” somebody who can overcome the lobby-driven, divisive politics that characterizes this issue,” Obama told about 300 people at Waverly Light and Power, the city utility.


Associated Press Writer Amy Lorentzen contributed to this report from Clinton, Iowa.


  1. SEAL

    This has only been another example of candidates saying what those in front of them want to hear. They will have another story in front of the next group.

    The unions were not the only reason but they contributed greatly to the creation of a strong middle class in America. The corporations, aided and abetted by government have destroyed that middle class by shipping the union and other jobs overseas.

    Notice that Hillary Clinton avoids that subject like the plague. Her husband was a party to fall of union power. How labor could consider supporting her is beyond my comprehension.

  2. bryan mcclellan

    If the people wish to organize ,it is their right,what their union begets is ultimately their responsibility.Passing on of the trades is tradition and should be revered for that and nothing more.When the goat roper upped his price we all got screwed if we didn’t have any goats..

  3. Nogood

    It seems that the sentiment here in America is that it is fine for a corporation to belong to an “union” but workers should not. The majority of all corporations belong to some sort of an organization which in reality is nothing less than an union. In the trucking business, most of the trucking companies belong to the ATA, but then they spend millions of dollars to fight the Teamsters. We live in the most hypocritical country on this planet.

    Is it right for a CEO to make millions and then begrudge the worker for trying to increase his wages and benefits? Dont believe for a minute that a company gives raises and increases benefits out of the “goodness” of their hearts. It has only been through the efforts of organized labor that the standard of living in this country has reached the level we now enjoy.

  4. Helen Rainier


    Generally, “union” contracts are arrived at by mutual agreement between labor representatives and management representatives. I am not aware of ANY union/labor contract that is created or determined in a vacuum.

    Those negotiations can take a long, long time. However, they are agreed on mutually by both sides at the negotiating table. It is then up to management to ensure that they ABIDE by the rules and regulations that they have agreed to abide by.

    It is up to the union to make sure that management DOES abide by the rules and regulations and when they don’t to violate a grievance citing which article or articles of the contract that management didn’t abide by.

    A Union Contract encompasses many, many different areas regarding the work environment.

    I was a floor steward for several years and believe me, there are many times when there are union members who want grievances filed when no violation of the contract exists. We had plenty of angry people when we would tell them there was no violation of the contract. Likewise, there were also many times when we would go to the floor supervisors to warn them that if they pursued a particular course of action it would indeed be a violation of the contract and mean that we would have to file a grievance.

    The stewards that I was fortunate to serve with tried their very best to take a middle of the road stance and be fair to all involved — not just the union members.

    Have there been union excesses? Yes, but usually at the expense of the members. However, for each and every questionable action by the union, I will say there was an equally questionable and egregious violation of the rights of the employees by management.

    Please note: I am speaking ONLY based on my own personal experiences here with the Union I was a member of.

  5. adamrussell

    It makes sense to allow labor to negotiate collectively. But lets not turn them into a government supported monopoly by passing laws forcing business to accept union contracts. Let the market decide. If business and unions can come to agreement then unions work. If business decides it is better to not sign contracts and hire non-union then let them do that. Government should neither support or disallow unions, as long as both unions and business are behaving peaceably.

    We are not a socialist country where government enforces equal work for everyone. Neither are we a a fascist country where government says “Just shut up and do your job”.

  6. Sandra Price

    I have some questions over this concept that the middle class will gain by having a financial attack on big corporations and the labor unions to have more inpact on the destruction of the profits made.

    All Ameicans do better when big business can do better in America. The pressures from the government on big business has simply moved them off shore and nobody benefits but the investors.

    Now the Democrats want to remove the lobbyists that help businesses keep their contracts most of which are government contracts.

    It seems to me we are shooting the middle class in the foot and losing our American products in the shootout. How this managed to become a partisan issue is impossible to follow. The Democrats want a redistribution of wealth and they believe that by hurting the corporations the middle class will gain.

    Nothing makes sense at this time.

  7. gene

    Oh boy, another one. Ok lets talk about “organized labor” when our (meaning this has been nation of ours} has lost most of its industrial foundation to other nations filled with individuals who work for much less. Labor party my ass, f**king morons. We (this nation) has little to offer anymore as we import most of the “stuff” we buy daily.

    A real nation produces quality products and exports these products at a reasonable price and still makes a profit. Real industry grows jobs but it takes reasonable sane individuals who don’t believe in something as foolish as the “American dream” now the “American nightmare” which contiunues to unfold.

    Oh we have industry here in the good old USofA, its called a
    (service industry) meaning we do each others laundry, clean each others houses and fix/repair things. As far as producing exportable goods, well just take a look at our trade deficit.

    A nation of morons…”organized labor” my ass.

  8. Ardie

    Yeah, Americans should be for disorganized labor instead of organized labor. Then every worker can, in the Chinese fashion, kowtow to their corporate CEOs and the corporatist state, in general, where corporations write the bills and a corporate stooge president signs the bill into law.

    Per omnia extrema

  9. Sandra Price

    Adam Russell, I agree with you. Ardie you are too extreme in your views and without corporations America would have no industry. My income has always been generated by my working for corporations and investing in them. I am not a criminal but I am a capitalist. This does not mean I am corrupt!

    I have always wanted a balance between labor and management and saw it work beautifully for decades. when the government got greedy and wanted to interfere with contracts and adding taxes to the production and profits of the corporation, we saw corruption get into the whole picture.

    Working a 60 hour week and being paid for 60 hours paid my bills and sent my kids to school. I joined no union but most of my friends did and we shared in the experiences.

    Supply and Demand is all any corporation needs to exist and everything else is just a problem. You need to read more books on American business Ardie and learn the strength in the system.

  10. Abdul of the Kyber Pass

    Adam and Sandra are correct. FDR forced collective bargaining on the US. Economists now believe that FDR’s economic policies increased the length and severity of the Great Depression.

    No business should be forced to hire a union. A union’s role ought to be as a labor contractor supplying trained people for the task at hand. Labor monopolies are just as bad if not worse than business monopolies.

    If unions are the answer, then why do their numbers continue to shrink? What skilled laborer cannot find work in our booming economy? The days of workers being paid $30-40/hour to do menial tasks are gone.

    On the flip side, why are the politicians who are sucking up to the unions the same ones trying to put union members on the unemployment lines? Aren’t coal miner members of the UMW good enough to keep their jobs in the face of the (entirely fictitious) man-made global warming scam? What about all the union members who work in the petroleum industry? Why are they suddenly disposable?

    Manufacturing jobs have left this country for no other reason that people stopped buying American-made products because they were too expensive. Non-competitive union contracts are just one of the factors. All of the candidates lack the courage to tell the truth on this. In a world wide market place, there is no room for bloat. Unions either have to find a way of making their services useful to employers or they will simply disappear.