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AFL-CIO Endorses Obama

By Alec MacGillis
After months of holding back, the AFL-CIO endorsed Barack Obama today, saying it would put more than $50 million and hundreds of thousands of volunteers to work helping elect the Illinois senator after he defeated the primary candidate whom the coalition's biggest two unions had endorsed, Hillary Clinton.

AFL President John Sweeney said in an interview that the coalition was highly confident that its efforts on Obama's behalf would prove more successful than its work on behalf of Al Gore and John Kerry, elections that left the labor movement facing an administration hostile to most labor demands.

"We've been on a roll in terms of the political program since 2006," he said. "Our sights are higher in terms of what we expect, the amount of money affiliates will put in, the amount of volunteers.... We have seen there is a greater interest on the part of this campaign. More people want to be involved more folks are knowledgeable about the issues, all of them recognize the problems with the economy.... It's making folks angry and wanting to be involved."

Sweeney acknowledged that the AFL had work to do in introducing its members to Obama, who was derided as weak and ineffectual during the primaries by several AFL union presidents, the head of the International Machinists and Aerospace Workers and of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "We're going to be spending a lot of time educating workers on Senator Obama and what his track record has been," he said. "I think we're going to be able to convert a lot of those workers over to Obama."

He said he was unconcerned by some recent attempts by Obama to shift away from some of the stances he staked out in the primaries in his bid for labor backing in Rust Belt states. In a recent interview with Fortune, Obama said that some of his anti-trade rhetoric had gotten overheated, signaling to the magazine's business readers that he would not necessarily move to unilaterally overhaul NAFTA. "He has every right to modify his positions on issues, but the bottom line is he's firmly committed to so many of the issues important to workers," Sweeney said. "I think we'll see a strong program of his on these issues. I don' t think he's going to vacate his basic beliefs in terms of how these issues are addressed."

Sweeney also said he was not worried about the effects of lingering doubts about Obama among some AFL presidents, or about the continued tensions between his coalition and the rival Change to Win coalition, which includes the Service Employees International Union and Teamsters.

"We all have our individual priorities, but basically we're all committed to electing Senator Obama president of the United States," he said. "We've all experienced the same hardships and anti-worker attitudes in the present administration."

By Web Politics Editor  |  June 26, 2008; 4:13 PM ET
Categories:  B_Blog , Barack Obama  
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