In a huge public blow to the electoral fortunes of both President Obama and the Democratic Party, the president of the AFL-CIO said Thursday that organized labor is preparing to ditch Democrats and go it alone in building up its own grassroots structure.
Specifically, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters that the nation’s largest labor federation will scale back their involvement with the Democratic Party in advance of the 2012 elections.
In 2008, unions spent over $400 million for Obama's election. Asked if the AFL’s move is a huge blow to Obama, Democratic pollster Doug Schoen told Newsmax.TV: “Absolutely. Obama needs to get labor back and I think he’ll be courting them furiously in the weeks and months to come."
While Trumka had nothing but scathing words for the tea party movement, he laid out a scenario that very much mirrored the tea party’s grassroots structure and its clout in the GOP. The vision is for big labor to wield the clout that it once had inside the Democratic Party and on the liberal end of the spectrum in American politics.
Trumka made it clear that his plan will cost the Democrats both contributions and labor volunteers in many districts almost immediately. That would cripple key Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts in many swing districts on Election Day.
“We’re going to use a lot of our money to build structures that work for working people” Trumka said, according to Politico.“You’re going to see us give less money to build structures for others, and more of our money will be used to build our own structure.”
Trumka’s remarks came after the news earlier this week that the AFL-CIO will set up a so-called super PAC to spend unlimited amounts of money on political activity for next year’s elections and beyond. Trumka confirmed Thursday that the union is moving forward with plans to create the PAC.
The AFL-CIO’s outside effort will help keep union-backed candidates more accountable for promises made on the campaign trail, Trumka said.
“Let’s assume we spent $100 in the last election,” he said, explaining the union’s position.
“The day after Election Day, we were no stronger than we were the day before,” said Trumka. “If we had spent that [$100] on creating a structure for working people that would be there year round, then we are stronger.”
Trumka also said that many labor leaders are weighing whether to skip the party’s 2012 convention.
“There are some of our affiliates that aren’t going to participate,” said Trumka, speaking to reporters at a breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor, “We’re still talking about it.”
Big labor’s problems with the Obama administration include outstanding issues like the failure to pass a union-backed card check bill that would ease organizing, as well as the administration’s support for free-trade agreements with Colombia, South Korea and Panama.
Trumka articulated a broader critique of the Obama administration, telling reporters that the president has allowed Republicans to set the terms of debate — focusing on what he called a manufactured debt crisis instead of a jobs agenda.
“I think he made a strategic mistake when he confused job crisis with deficit crisis,” Trumka said. “He started playing on the Republican ground.”
“He’s going to give a speech in a couple of weeks on job creation,” Trumka told reporters. “If he’s talking about another percent or two break from a tax here and doing something with patent control, and doing three years down the road something with infrastructure bank, that’s not going to get the job done.”
He called for more direct action.
“As we approach this Labor Day, our working-class people are looking for three things: jobs, jobs, jobs,” Trumka said.