Democratic National Convention
Thursday, August 17, 2000

Labor has qualms over Gore

        LOS ANGELES — If you wonder whether organized labor is the tail wagging the dog in the Democratic Party, take a look at the TV tonight when Al Gore gives his acceptance speech here.

        As you watch the network TV cameras pan across the floor of the Staples Center, with shots of people in bizarre headdress and wearing more buttons than a biker has tattoos, consider this:

        One of every three people you see in those delegation seats will be a union member.

        The AFL-CIO, which got on the ground floor early by endorsing Al Gore over Bill Bradley in the Democratic primaries, lays claims to 30 percent of the delegates to the Democratic National Convention.

        In the Ohio delegation, an amazing 55 percent are union members — steelworkers, government employees, teachers, laborers, autoworkers, grocery clerks, ad infinitum.

        So when John Sweeney, the national president of the AFL-CIO, showed up at the Ohio delegation caucus breakfast as he did Wednesday, it was as if the pope dropped by unannounced at the St. William parish festival in Price HIll.

        The union people here know two things:

        First, they know that they are the muscle of the Democratic Party nationally in terms of raising money — they specialize in the “soft money” independent spending that has been a factor in some of Republican Steve Chabot's congressional races in Cincinnati when he was labor's target.

        They also know that they are the grass-roots backbone for Democratic candidates at every level — running phone banks, going door-to-door, getting the word out to their members.

        But they also know that this Democratic Party of Al Gore and Joe Lieberman — centrist, middle of the road — has former union chief George Meaney rolling over in his grave.

        It is a party that has nominated two candidates who support the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and preferred-nation trade status for China, two positions that are anathema to the union, who fear that wide-open trade agreements will threaten U.S. jobs.

        It is a party that has a vice presidential candidate who supports at least experimenting with school vouchers, while labor — particularly the teachers unions — are trying to preserve public education.

        Labor has lost on nearly every issue of contention in this “new Democrat” party of Hollywood and trial lawyers and Internet entrepreneurs.

        Wednesday, Mr. Sweeney said the differences labor has with the Gore-Lieberman ticket on trade and other issues pale in comparison with the differences with the Republicans.

        “I know that, in its heart, this is the party of working people,” Mr. Sweeney said.

        “Yes, labor has disagreements with Gore,” said Tom Mooney of Cincinnati, head of the Ohio Federation of Teachers. “Then we think about George W. Bush in the White House.”

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