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Union Officials: Obama Should Hit Harder On Economy, Not Worry About "Class War" Label


First Posted: 08-24-08 06:27 PM   |   Updated: 09-24-08 05:12 AM

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Andy Stern has a message for Barack Obama: do not fear being accused of waging "class war" by speaking out for middle class and poor families.

On the sidelines of a pre-convention Sunday event in Denver, the president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) said that the "class war" charge -- often levied to good effect against Democratic presidential candidates -- has jumped the shark. Citing new polling numbers on the economy, which will be released Monday by the Change To Win coalition of unions, Stern told the Huffington Post: "People appreciate that power has been re-balanced away from them -- that economic fairness has come out of balance, and they can't figure out what's going to happen to their kids' [futures]. And so, I think someone saying corporations have way too much power and workers way too little is a message that everyone actually believes right now. And they may not have believed that 10 years ago."

Change To Win's new polling data will be released at a Monday morning panel addressing access to "the American dream." Presumably, the data will paint a bleak picture. And in light of what Stern sees as an increasing public appetite for sharp populism, the SEIU president said corporate America is the recipient of fewer and fewer crocodile tears. "No one's wincing and saying insurance companies are our friends. Or that Wal-Mart is really trying to help America be better as opposed to the Walton family."

Still, Stern observed the crucial difference between big businesses riding high and smaller companies that are feeling the pains of the economic squeeze. "I think there is a way to do this without broad brush accusing every employer in America with doing something wrong," he said.

But he also warned Obama against appearing too timid to reach the same judgments that Stern believes ordinary citizens now hold when it comes to the economy. "Americans have identified who they think is responsible for part of the problems in their lives. I think Barack Obama understands this -- and I think he needs to say it."

The union's sectretary-treasurer, Anna Burger, agreed. "I do think he [Obama] has to hit this harder, that the government has to work for workers," she said.

To help get that message out, the union is preparing a ground assault in nine battleground states -- Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, Colorado, and Nevada. A press release claims that over 100,000 SEIU members will be volunteering between now and November, while the union's independent expenditure committee plans to spend $85 million to "educate voters about John McCain's anti-worker agenda and elect Barack Obama."

Part of that $85 million is sure to be spent on television ads in targeted states, according to a political affairs aide for the union. Some of those ads may even feature footage of Barack Obama folding sheets, preparing a meal and otherwise helping out homecare worker Pauline Beck as part of the union's "Walk A Day In My Shoes" campaign.

Beck, an SEIU member who will also speak at the convention, was asked by reporters at Sunday's event whether Obama actually excelled at any of the tasks he performed during his visit. "Cutting the watermelon," she said with a slight smile, adding: "He was really good at everything that he did."

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