THE American trade unions, who invested heavily in Barack Obama’s election campaign, have called on the newly-elected US president to give a voice to working-class people.
They called on him to protect jobs, pass legislation to enable them to have unhindered, free collective bargaining with employers, for their families to have access to healthcare and for their children to have access to university education.
An estimated 250,000 people gathered in Chicago following his overwhelming victory over Republican rival John McCain in the early hours on Wednesday, to hear winning Democratic Party contender Obama speak.
But Obama admitted that US capitalism was in crisis, saying: ‘Even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime – two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century.’
On the eve of Obama’s victory, the six-million-strong Change To Win trade union coalition had issued an election day statement, demanding living wages and a better future for American working families.
The leaders of the major American unions pleaded for a ‘partnership’ with the new US government and with business, to work as ‘one nation’ to stop workers’ living standards being further eroded.
The Service Employees International Union; UNITE HERE; the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union; the International Brotherhood of Teamsters; the Laborers’ International Union of North America; the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, and the United Farm Workers of America – are all part of the coalition.
Change To Win chairwoman, Anna Burger, said: ‘Today, workers are voting for fundamental change, change in our economy and change in our government.
‘The past eight years have been a disaster for working people.’
She continued: ‘This is our moment, and this election marks a new beginning . . . We have the chance to put America on a new path – a path that will rebuild the middle class, fix our national health care system, give workers the freedom to join a union without intimidation, and create a financial system that works for Main Street, not just Wall Street.’
She said that: ‘For working families, this election has always been about the economy, about health care . . . to provide the next generation with a better future.
Burger said the overwhelming opposition to outgoing president George W Bush, and the demand for change that led so many millions to vote in Barack Obama, marked ‘the beginning of a new era for working America’.
She said: ‘Never before have so many voters been so enthused and so determined to bring the change we need.
‘Our preliminary findings show that an unprecedented number of workers, especially young workers, are turning out.
‘Americans of all backgrounds, all across the nation, are voting in record numbers to elect Barack Obama and pro-worker candidates up and down the ticket.
‘Change To Win unions have been working tirelessly to elect Barack Obama since February – volunteering countless hours, knocking on millions of doors, making millions of phone calls, and visiting worksites across the nation – but our efforts don’t end tonight, they simply begin.
‘We will continue to educate and mobilise our members to hold every politician accountable for the promises they made to the working people of this nation who made their voices heard and changed history.’
The American Federation of Labour-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) congratulated Barack Obama on his historic victory, becoming the first black president some 40 years after the outlawing of racist segregation in the United States.
AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney said: ‘Congratulations to everyone who poured blood, sweat and tears into this election.
‘You have won for working families a great opportunity – and a great responsibility . . .
‘We are responsible for holding our elected leaders to the promises they made during their campaigns and providing the public support they need to make tough legislative choices on our behalf.
‘So thank you . . . and don’t stop now.’
He said that the United States was facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, adding: ‘Hardworking families are losing jobs, homes, health care, retirement savings and hope.
‘Hundreds of billions of dollars have been committed to rescuing Wall Street – but almost nothing has been done to rescue Main Street.’
Sweeney appealed for ‘a fresh partnership among government, business, communities and working families.’
He said: ‘It will require immediate new stimulus efforts to jump-start our economy – restructuring mortgages to keep people in their homes, extending unemployment assistance for jobless workers, aiding states so they can continue to provide vital public services and putting a down payment on job-creating infrastructure investments.’
He continued: ‘Then we’ll need to grow those investments in schools, roads, bridges and clean renewable energy for sustained economic growth, re-regulate our financial markets and reform America’s broken health care system so no one has to choose between food and medicine or between life-saving treatment and bankruptcy.
‘But no matter what else we do to put our economy back to work, we will not succeed unless we also restore workers’ freedom to bargain for a better life.
‘To do that, we must enact the Employee Free Choice Act as the core of lasting economic recovery for working families.
‘The Employee Free Choice Act will level the playing field for corporations and workers who want to form and join unions.
‘It will strengthen penalties for companies that coerce or intimidate employees who support the union; establish mediation and binding arbitration when the company and workers cannot agree on a first contract; and enable employees to form unions when a majority signs authorisation cards.
‘Corporate front groups, industry associations and some large corporations have chosen to launch a massive campaign to defeat the Employee Free Choice Act rather than respecting workers’ free choice about whether to form unions and bargain.
‘Naming this their number one priority, they have pledged to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on misleading and untrue ads and attack smears on members of Congress who support the legislation.
‘They are desperate to preserve today’s unfair system in which companies hold all the power.
‘Count on this being one of the largest, foulest propaganda campaigns in the history of public policy.’
But Sweeney said: ‘America’s unions – from the national level down to individual union members – are joining together to overcome the lies and distortions and win prompt passage of the Employee Free Choice Act to restore America’s middle class.’
The Teamsters union said that the ‘massive’ push for change had ensured Obama’s victory and the victory of ‘worker friendly’ Democratic Party candidates.
‘Our 1.4 million members demanded change and we marshalled our forces in unprecedented numbers for this historic election,’ said Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa.
‘There is no doubt that we made the difference.
‘This is a great day – a historic day. Now let’s get this country unified and working for regular, middle-class Americans again. . . we can’t stop here because our real work starts now.’
Service Employees International Union (SEIU) President Andy Stern said: ‘Forty years ago we saw on the streets of Chicago, at the Democratic Convention, a country divided by race and a war.
‘Tonight, 40 years later, we gather in the same city of past divisions as a nation united by a young leader who has travelled a once unimaginable journey . . . offering hope and an end to the “old politics’’, and, proudly, will become the first African-American President in our history.
‘Barack Obama – raised by a single mom, who borrowed money to go to college, married to the daughter of a Chicago public worker – has lived the American Dream and today voters gave him a mandate to make the dreams of so many other Americans come true.’
Stern said that the US economy ‘has left workers far behind’ and that ‘fear and greed . . . have gripped Washington these past eight years’.
Stern continued: ‘Barack Obama symbolically began his partnership with our union, SEIU, by walking a day in the shoes of an SEIU member, Pauline Beck, a homecare worker in California.
‘Today all Americans walk together . . . it is time to put aside partisanship and all do our part to solve the problems we face as one nation united by a belief that our best days are ahead of us.’
But Stern admitted that ‘elections are not an end in themselves’.
He said: ‘Starting tonight, we will work with our elected leaders to establish a clear agenda to rebuild the middle class, fix our national healthcare system, give workers a stronger voice and hold every politician accountable for the promises made to the hardworking families of this nation who tonight have changed history.’