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AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka announced a shift in political strategy Thursday, confirming that his federation will form a super PAC that will raise money to focus on advocacy as well as elections.
“It gives us a greater capacity to deliver votes for people that are our friends,” Trumka said at a press briefing organized by the Christian Science Monitor. “We’ll be able to educate and mobilize on a broader scale, not just to members but to workers in general.”
Instead of organizing politically six to eight months before each election, Trumka said the AFL-CIO will build a year-round infrastructure focused on “advocacy and accountability.”
In a signal of labor organizers’ dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama and Democratic party leaders, Trumka said his federation will “give less money to build structures for others,” and may even sit out the Democratic National Convention. Some building trade unions already plan to boycott the Charlotte convention because North Carolina is a right-to-work state, meaning that no worker there can be forced to join a union.
Trumka decried the Supreme Court decision that last year freed both corporations and unions to spend unlimited money on elections, as long as they don’t coordinate with parties or candidates. That ruling, known as Citizens United, “has further corrupted the system,” said Trumka. He argued it cannot be fixed without a constitutional amendment.
Reform advocates have raised concerns about the AFL-CIO’s decision to form a super PAC, warning that it underscores how the 2012 election will be dominated by big money. Corporate-backed trade associations and advocacy groups were quick to take full advantage of the Citizens United ruling, spending far more independent campaign money than Democrat-friendly groups in 2008. Since then, Democratic operatives have sought to catch up, setting up an infrastructure of outside groups to help Obama and his Congressional allies. The AFL-CIO announcement signals that labor unions, too, are ready to spend unrestricted super PAC money on both politics and policy issues.
Trumka also warned Obama on Thursday that Democrats’ labor allies will sit on their hands in the next election without a sharper jobs agenda from the White House.
“This is going to be a moment in history when our members are going to judge him,” said Trumka at the press briefing. He faulted Obama for letting Republicans set the agenda and focusing on “little nibbly things” during the recent debt ceiling debate.
Trumka called on Obama to present “bold solutions” to the nation’s economic problems, including investment in crumbling infrastructure. He said the president’s post-Labor Day address, which Obama has signaled will focus squarely on jobs, will be a test of White House leadership.
“You need leadership with a sharp, cutting edge,” said Trumka, who argued that the recent debt ceiling agreement was “a bad deal” for working Americans. He called on Obama to draw a sharper contrast with Republicans and to articulate a more forceful jobs agenda. Entitlements alone should not bear the burden of deficit reduction, he said, citing a Congressional Budget Office finding that the deficit could be halved over a decade if the Bush-era tax cuts expired.
“People have pretty much lost faith in Washington to solve their problems,” Trumka said. “They’re angry.”