AFSCME President Lee Saunders.
Posted Sep 3, 2012 4:25pm EDT
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The newly-elected president of the giant public workers’ union AFSCME, Lee Saunders, took a page out of Clint Eastwood's book at an Ohio delegation Labor Day breakfast on Monday, speaking to an empty chair that he pretended was occupied by Eastwood. At first it was just a lark.
"He's been sitting here listening to all the speakers before me, he's been listening to me, I want you to give Clint Eastwood a round of applause," Saunders said. "I brought him with me to learn some things, OK? To teach him, to educate him." The audience murmured and laughed.
Saunders asked the chair questions, then joked, "He doesn't have anything to say."
"Mitt Romney doesn't have anything to say," Saunders continued. "Paul Ryan doesn't have anything to say."
Suddenly, the tone changed: Saunders, finishing his speech, began to kick the chair, threw it, and yelled "Dirty Harry, make my day! We're gonna kick ass in November!"
The crowd was cheering, and the humor had gained a palpable edge.
"We wanted to respond to the nonsense that he did last week," Saunders said later. "We're here to have fun but we're here to work, too, so we thought we were sending a message."
Saunders isn’t the only frustrated labor leader at the Democratic National Convention this year. American unions, in the throes of a long slide, have had perhaps their worst run ever facing not only the usual declining membership rolls, but also a public repudiation in a Wisconsin recall vote that centered on the place of public sector workers. Adding to that, the Democratic Party’s choice of Charlotte as the convention was a slap in the face: North Carolina has right-to-work laws and virtually no union presence. The fact that unions couldn’t influence the Democrats’ decision on location a testament to their less-than-omnipotent position.
And while labor leaders and rank-and-file profess to support Obama as much as ever, but the cracks are showing. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told Politico that federation isn't bringing a full staff or even getting a skybox at the convention center. Battles in Ohio and Wisconsin have badly sapped union resources, a labor operative said. Other unions are focused down-ballot, labor operatives said, focused on saving the seats of true labor allies than of fighting for the national Democratic Party.
At the Ohio breakfast, in a large conference room fifteen minutes outside central Charlotte filled with people in AFSCME shirts and Obama buttons, delegates listened to Ohio Democrats and representatives from the Ironworkers, Steelworkers, and other unions pump them up.
“The Democratic Party is the party of labor,” said Tim Burga, president of the Ohio AFL-CIO. “The Democratic Party and its goals are aligned with the labor movement — social and economic justice.”
Burga exhorted the listeners to do everything they could to re-ensure Obama’s reelection: “We must leave everything out on the field this year to re-elect President Obama and re-elect senator Sherrod Brown.”
“They’re afraid of our power,” Saunders told the crowd in his blistering speech.
Martin O’Malley, the governor of Maryland and Democratic Governors’ Association chief, tailored his remarks to the labor crowd (he was also hitting less union-heavy Tennessee that morning).
“Unions have made our country better,” O’Malley said. “You all play a critical role. An absolutely critical role.”
O’Malley put the focus on Congressional races as well as Obama’s re-election, telling the audience that the president needed to be “given a better Congress.”
Later, O’Malley raised an eyebrow at BuzzFeed’s question about labor enthusiasm at the convention.
“The excitement-meter question?” he said. “We’re a big party and we are a national party and we need to reach out to voters all over the country, and that includes the people of North Carolina.”
“I’m not sure when the last time was, if ever, we had a Democratic Convention in North Carolina,” O’Malley said. “I certainly understand the perspective of the men and women of the labor movement, but at the same time this was a decision made as part of a national effort.”
“There will be other events I’m sure that happen in states where labor leaders feel more excited about going. But look, the bottom line is we’re a big country and North Carolina is an important state for us.”
Saunders doesn’t hide his disappointment with the selection of North Carolina as the convention state.
“Charlotte wouldn’t have been our choice as a city,” Saunders told reporters after his Ohio delegation breakfast speech. “It’s in a right to work state, it’s tough to organize down here for private and public sector unions. “
“But we’re beyond that now,” Saunders said. “I mean, it’s over. Charlotte was selected and we’ve got to keep our eyes on the prize and that’s to win in November, and we can’t get caught up in B.S. to be quite honest with you.”
Saunders struck a hopeful note. “We’re going to continue to move forward, we’re going to continue to organize. We’re going to be just fine.”
One of labor’s biggest problems, from the point of view of this election, is that its traditional organizing methods aren’t as useful as they once were in the era of super PACs, mega-rich conservative donors, and technologically advanced campaign techniques.
“Labor can be a significant factor, but what will be its value-added in this presidential election?” asked one labor operative, noting that conservative groups have caught up with labor’s field expertise. “’Boots on the ground’ has always been labor's claim to fame.”
So the Democrats know that labor won’t be the most significant factor in this presidential election. The labor movement, for its part, is still charged with drumming up enthusiasm for a party that has slighted it.
George Tucker, the AFSCME regional director for the Toledo, Ohio area, has been a union member since 1966. He was resigned to the task at hand.
“We’re here, and we’ve got a job to do, and that’s to get the president and the vice-president elected,” Tucker said. “The people here have treated us well.”
Tucker said he thinks the enthusiasm among regular union members — most of whom at the breakfast were wearing Obama paraphernalia — was more pronounced in Charlotte than at home. “I think they are [excited] here at the convention. I think we need to go back and help the excitement build up with our members.”
“We’ve got to get out and get out the message out to the people,” Tucker said. “About what it means to the middle class to have a union.”
For the labor movement, no matter who the Democratic candidate is, the alternative will always be worse.
Romney “doesn’t have a clue what the average working person has to go through,” Tucker said. “Not only to get a job, but to keep a job. He doesn’t have a clue on that.”
First........when are these ignorant people that lead the "democrat" party going to realize they are not the "democratic" party. Anything but democratic.
Second....they on the defense, now let's keep the "greed sapping labor unions" and all the other anti-American members of the "democrat" party on the defensive.
Third....I think they are going to end of with a "democrat" convention of incest....it's all about "of, for, and by" the leaders of the democrat party. I predict all America loving democrats at the grass roots level will abandon the destructive path and nonsense the democrat party leadership is spouting.
Fourth....how do we amplify the Clint Eastwood empty chair message into a respectful message from Romney to Obama.........??
It is the Democrats that don't have a clue.
These cretins haven't the intelligence to understand that right to work states have the intent of the constitution exactly right: that the right to work is an essential freedom, one which should not be by procalmation of union bosses be a cause for either employment or the denial of it for failure to join a union under duress.If you wish to join a union and make it your collectiVe bargaining agent, fine, but it should NEVER be compulsory in a constitutional republic as to make it a condition of employment running totally counter to the intent of the Founding Fathers. Right to work States are generally more productive, better off fiscally; even in THIS labor scarce economy and with less crime than in union states. One would think after the defeats in Wisconsin and the one coming in November that these misguided fools who think Union leadership works in THEIR best interests, will see the light; that they are in fact, paying blood money for a guaranteed right, the right to work and make a living to support yourself and your family. It has ALWAYS been wrong that Union membership is a CONDITION OF EMPLOYMENT; as it abrogates the right of the individual to CHOOSE what is best for himself and his family. Note the closeness of the unions to the socialist and communist movements in America and use your native intelligence. Vote for the alternative in November. Romney may not be the best candidate from his party but, he is the nominee. He will certainly be a better alternative than 4 more years of a failed Marxist with delusions of Godhood, a DSA infiltrated congress and a Senate run by Senile Harry Reid and a preposterous but powerful parasite former Speaker, Nancy Pelosi. Clint Eastwood and others have it right. Obama is an empty suit serving in an empty chair and with an empty head if he thinks he will continue to diminish a country in which 23.6 million of us have served with honor in our military to PRESERVE all, he and his fellow travellers would destroy if we let him. WE WILL NOT LET HIM, EVER! No president in our history has tried to deny our military the right to vote as HE has. No other president has dishonored the military with forced acceptance of homosexuality and the refusal to defend marriage though the DOMA was passed into law by former President Bill Clinton in 1996. Of course, Clinton was really good at maintaining his own marriage after L'affaire Lewinsky. Are these really the kind of people America wants to determine the course of our country and whether or not we remain free with the UN looking to destroy us with Obama's help from within? Even now, though there has not been support for either the UN LOTS or Small arms treaties, Obama and Hillary are looking for ways to eradicate the second amendment and various others of our constitutionally guaranteed freeedoms , including those of freedom of religion and speech in addition to the right to bear arms in our own defense. WE CANNOT LET THEM WIN!
Well said Brian....and on target.
Harry and Brian;
Democrat's show a real ethical and moral decay. No wonder!!
I'm sure MSM won't show that display of Violence, and the Obama regime think's tea partiers are dangerous? His display of violence and the Democrats reaction should be plastered over every network and every campaign commercial for the world to see. It's disgusting and we wonder why our schools are full of violence.
I doubt that it will happen as you project but it would warm the cockles of my heart if it did. Yet, we are a nation of law; though that law is being subverted by the powers that presently be and the infiltration of our society and contamination of our culture by the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic forces arrayed against us ; including the Muslim currently occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in D.C.. However, I sense a great awakening and a day of retribution and reckoning at hand for the Godless democrats and puerile progressives who have so damaged our country these past 4 years along with all the other lunatic liberals without values or common sense, who despise our Constitutional Republic and all for which it has stood these past 237 years. They WILL be held both RESPONSIBLE and ACCOUNTABLE when the time comes but, when it does, it will be in constitutional compliance and in accordance with those principles laid down by the Founding Fathers or, we will be no better than those we seek to dethrone. We cannot become like them or we lose everything for which we are fighting.