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From papadop@peak.org Wed Sep 6 10:18:13 2000
Date: Tue, 5 Sep 2000 22:58:04 -0500 (CDT)
From: MichaelP <papadop@peak.org>
Subject: US labor movement will support Gore
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Article: 104115
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US labor movement will support Gore

Agence France Presse
Sunday 3 September 2000, 9:15 PM SGT

WASHINGTON, Sept 3 (AFP) - US labor unions, which celebrate Labor Day on Monday, want to use their influence -- declining but still decisive at election time -- to help Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore win the White House.

Closing his eyes on the free-trade ideology of Gore and his running mate Joseph Lieberman, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said he was "very enthusiastic about the whole ticket."

"In politics, we're gearing up for the biggest campaign of grassroots people-power ever," Sweeney, head of one of the most powerful US unions, told reporters this week.

He pointed out that worker mobilization, heavy turnout and strong financial support could increase the chances for defeating Gore's Republican rival George W. Bush, who enjoys close ties with the business circles.

But while the 13-million-strong AFL-CIO formally declared its support for the US vice president last October, other large unions, such as United Auto Workers (UAW), have been dragging their feet.

Three other labor unions have decided to support the longshot White House bid by Green Party nominee Ralph Nader.

Teamsters union head Jimmy Hoffa said his group would endorse a candidate only after consultations with 1.5 million union members. Hoffa, who heads another of the largest US unions, has been courted by Republicans.

President Bill Clinton and Vice President Gore's support for free trade is a hard pill for the unions to swallow. US unions see free trade as an excuse for companies to move their jobs to third-world countries were labor is cheaper.

The labor movement suffered a defeat in 1994 with the conclusion of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), lowering trade barriers between Mexico, Canada and the United States. And it has practically lost a congressional battle over granting China permanent normal trade relations status.

According to Joshua Freeman, professor of labor history at Queen's College in New York, the unions' "expectations toward the Democrats are pretty modest."

They count only on the government's positive attitude and more socially-oriented policies in the areas of retirement and taxes, said Freeman.

In an increasingly mobile country where institutions tend to disintegrate, "what is left is the churches and the unions," Freeman told AFP.

Historically, the US labor movement is in crisis in the private sector. The share or organized workers in industry dropped from 35 percent in 1955 to 14 percent now. Their share is only nine percent in the private sector.

However, labor union members, most of them Democrats, represent 25 percent of the electorate. according to Freeman, who also said that union members know how to mobilize family and friends for a vote.

Unions still wield decisive influence in the education system and old industrial states such as Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

In recent weeks, Gore has adopted a more populist stance. At the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, where about a third of the delegates were union members, the vice president vowed to fight for "working families" and against "big interest" -- words the AFL-CIO like to hear.

In fact, "in the last two, three years the have succeeded to stop the decline," said Freeman.

Moreover, he believes that union leadership has changed. They act more boldly to recruit new members, using the Internet. And taking advantage of tight labor markets, union members are making new demands.

Successful strikes this year by 20,000 engineers at Boeing and 87,000 workers at Verizon, a newly created telephone company, are examples of these efforts.

Labor Day has been celebrated in the United States on the first Monday of September since 1882.

However, these days, the holiday is more associated in the eyes of Americans with barbecues and traffic jams.

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