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I'm very glad to hear about all the endorsements Barack is receiving from the various unions around the country. But after an interaction I had last night, I'm left to wonder ~ what does it mean in terms of actual votes?

I met a steelworker in a bar last night. He had gone there straight from work ~ still wearing suspenders with the local Steelworkers Union emblem printed on them.

He was sitting with another guy, drinking beers and chatting about nothing in particular. Occasionally, he'd say something loud enough about the Rays-Red Sox game, hoping to get a response from my wife and I. We'd give a quick, courteous answer, then go back to our conversation.

Then an Obama commercial came on, and he loudly slurred, "I'll tell 'ya this ~ I ain't votin' for that asshole."

Neither my wife nor I said a word. We just quietly sipped our beers and waited to hear what else he had to say. His buddy didn't say anything, either.

"And I ain't votin' for that other guy, either. He's too much of a dick."

At which point, my wife looked at him and asked, "So, who are you voting for?"

"I ain't votin'."

She smiled and said, "Well, if you're not voting for Obama, I'm happy to hear you're not voting at all."

His reason for not wanting to vote for Obama?

"He's too young."

I tried telling him that both Kennedy and Clinton were younger. He didn't believe me about Clinton, and I'm really not too sure it would have mattered if he did. But the mention of Kennedy seemed to light up his eyes. Granted, he was already pretty well lit up at that point, anyway, but it did make him think.

Here's the thing: When I heard, "he's too young", I thought, bullshit. It's the same reaction I have whenever I hear that someone hasn't made up their mind yet, or that they just don't know enough about Obama.

I mention this because when I hear about unions "endorsing" a candidate, I always assumed that the unions made sure that their members were duly informed about the candidate they backed.  

Now, it's possible that they do, and that this one particular guy just never bothered to read any of the literature that was put out for him. But I also thought that unions tried as hard as they could to ensure that their members would actually vote for their choice of candidate, too. I know times have changed, but I vividly remember growing up and hearing family members saying that they were voting for "X" because, "the union said to."

I realize that it's illegal and immoral for anyone in a position of power to force or willfully manipulate an employee to vote for a particular person. But I do know that the Steelworkers Union backed Obama, so I ask: How will that translate into votes? Is the endorsement by a Union powerful enough to overcome the individual concerns of the union's members? Or, it's latent racism? (if that's indeed what it was).

In hoping for an Obama landslide that will override any potential Republican "shenanigans", I wonder what we can actually count on when we see organizational endorsements. On the surface, it looks fantastic, but when you get a peek inside, it may not be what it appears to be.  

Originally posted to Patrick Egan on Fri Oct 17, 2008 at 11:39 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

    •  What's It Worth? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      pvlb

      I'm president of a 700+ member USW Local in Philadelphia.  I can unequivocally state that very few (almost zero) of my members will vote for Barack Obama (or anyone else) because "the union told me to."

      Some random union member is a racist?  Of course.  Unions have every problem that society has because we ARE society.  

      I can also tell you that every single one of my members has received dozens of fact sheets comparing and contrasting the two candidates positions on every issue important to working families.  This doesn't include the newsletter articles, the letters from the International officers, the one-on-one conversations in the work place, etc.  It also doesn't include the thirty minutes I spent last night at our monthly meeting explaining in painstaking detail the difference in the two candidates' healthcare plans.

      I can also tell you that dozens of my members have spent many Satuday mornings and afternoons out knocking on other union members doors to talk member-to-member about why Barack is the better choice.

      I can further tell you that there will be no single white male demographic with a higher percentage of votes for Barack than union members.

      We give them the information and trust them to make the right choice.

      What's it worth?  You decide.

      "Salvation for a race, nation or class must come from within. Freedom is never granted; it is won. Justice is never given; it is exacted." A. Phillip Randolph

      by Savage on Fri Oct 17, 2008 at 11:56:18 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Put Simply (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Savage, Shhs, pvlb, dawnt

    Union Endorsements may not guarantee that union members vote in a particular way, but they do guarantee that union members who are so inclined will have significant resources to help in the GOTV effort.

    That really does make a huge difference.

  •  I worked for the Steelworkers in the '04 campaign (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Savage, jgilhousen

    So, I can tell you what a union endorsement means.

    An endorsement by the Steelworkers means millions of dollars spent on public relations campaigns, advertising campaigns (print, broadcast, internet, and more), canvasses, phone banks, and more.

    An endorsement by the Steelworkers means professional public relations experts fanning out across the country to bring media attention to the failures of the opponent and his cronies.

    An endorsement by the Steelworkers means professional literature handed out and mailed to members who are willing to take it, read it, and use it (not much anyone can do for the unwilling).

    An endorsement by the Steelworkers means an army of active union members canvassing in their cities and towns, calling battleground states, and doing everything they can to help the candidate win.

    An endorsement by the Steelworkers means a slew of op-ed columns and opinion submissions at papers (both small and large) across America.

    There is so much more, but I think this is enough.

    John McCain traded your $10 job for $5 and called it a bargain.

    by dawnt on Fri Oct 17, 2008 at 11:50:57 AM PDT

    •  I realize that (0+ / 0-)

      And, I appreciate the money spent to get the word out.

      But, how influential is it to the members? And in the end, does it have any bearing on individual politics?

      For example: Millions are being spent by church groups in California to pass Prop 8 (eliminating the gay marriage act). I've talked to some people who are going to vote yes only because the church wants them to. Are there still union members in this day and age who act the same way?

      •  Well, of course there are some union members (0+ / 0-)

        who will do that. You're going to have that in any group. How many? Well, that usually depends on the various locals. Some locals are very organized and supportive of the candidates and others are opposed... It depends. Remember that a union will have a wide variety of members from various demographics.

        John McCain traded your $10 job for $5 and called it a bargain.

        by dawnt on Sat Oct 18, 2008 at 09:40:48 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Two thoughts: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Savage
    1. The endorsement process of most labor organizations is pretty democratic, and thus usually reflects the views of a majority (though never all) of the rank and file.  After all, Scott Palin is not only a union member, but a shop steward.  So, yes, you will always be able to find a dissenter among the membership.  That doesn't mean that the endorsement is unreflective of a solid body of union voters.
    1. I've been involved in too many campaigns to ever underestimate the value of the resources that come along with a union endorsement -- financial contributions, coordinated and experienced volunteers, and more.  These resources can swing votes far beyond the union's own rolls.
  •  My father is a union man (0+ / 0-)

    And the way they shove their candidate into the laps of their members is kind of patronizing.   I agree, and he does too, that Obama is the better choice for unions, DUH.  But he gets so much campaign mailers/spin pamphlets and emails from his union praising Obama and disparaging McCain its almost pathetic.

    I think they go a little overboard, and it can have the opposite effect.  Kind of like when your parents are too strict when you are a teen and you rebel against them.  Thats not to belittle union-members as young emotional kids.  You just dont want such things to backfire.  Just my $.02

  •  Endorsements (0+ / 0-)

    An endorsement really does not mean too much when it comes to votes.  Many Union members voted for Bush (almost 40%) in 2000, the totals were only slightly less when Kerry ran.  The leadership bemoans this fact and even tries to educate members that their pocketbooks are much more important than their single issue items like guns, abortion, etc.

    What an endorsement can get you is phone banks, volunteers, campaign funds, yard signs, etc.  Sometimes the boots on the ground are worth more than the boots in the booth.  10 Union volunteer workers who can convince 20 times their number to vote the "right way" are worth more than their fellow 8 union members who vote against you.

    I don't know about you, but most Locals (as do many other organizations today!) have a hard time getting more than 15-30% of their membership to even attend meetings.  Many times those that do show up are there mostly to complain.  A large fraction of those who show up are not the salt-of-the-earth hard working middle class men and women most Union members are, but rather are the whiners who oftentimes give a Union a bad reputation anyway.  

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