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Labor to Pour Millions Into Campaigns

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The newly militant labor movement will pour $35 million into political campaigning this year, promote a big get-out-the-vote effort and organize a cadre of 100 permanent activists in each congressional district, AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney said Wednesday.

“We are going to have a full year of hand-to-hand combat over budget issues,” Sweeney told a news conference at a special meeting of the AFL-CIO Executive Council, the first gathering since he was elected president of the labor federation last year on a platform pledged to aggressive organizing efforts.

Sweeney already has promised to boost the labor federation’s spending on new member recruitment from $2 million a year to $20 million for the next two years.

On Wednesday, he said that the labor movement, whose membership has slumped to about 11% of the work force, also would become much more aggressive and outspoken in political fights.

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Individual unions have long been active as sources of money and volunteers for elections, almost invariably on behalf of Democratic candidates. But the $35-million pool pledged for this year is six or seven times bigger than any past cooperative effort between the central labor federation and the individual unions, according to AFL-CIO officials.

About $20 million will be spent for media--television and radio commercials and newspaper advertising--and the other $15 million for organizers, phone banks, and other activities.

Individual union spending efforts could add millions of dollars more to total outlays.

The unions will meet in March to formally endorse President Clinton’s reelection.

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Sweeney said the president’s State of the Union speech “rang the bell of [House Speaker Newt] Gingrich Republicans with support of programs important to working families.”

In the last few months, the labor movement has “spent more than $8 million on media advertising. We’ve staged hundreds of grass-roots demonstrations and rallies and we’ve generated more than 400,000 telephone calls to members of Congress,” Sweeney said.

The labor union message, he said, is “no cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, education or worker protections to pay for a tax cut for the rich and the big corporations.”

During the campaign season, “we’re going to take that message--and the message of declining living standards for working families--and use them to elect politicians who respect and represent every constituent in their districts or states, whether they make $5 an hour or $500,000 a year,” Sweeney said.

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A special get-out-the-vote drive will be conducted in the last six weeks of the campaign, with 2,500 union staff members working full time on the campaigns. For the first time, the AFL-CIO hopes to build a force of political specialists--100 local union staff members in each congressional district.

“We want to build a permanent political structure at the grass-roots level,” said a union official.

There are “many common threads between organizing members and organizing more effective political campaigns,” Sweeney said.

The AFL-CIO leader, former head of the Service Employees International Union, announced the appointment of Richard Bensinger to head a new AFL-CIO organizing department, with a special $20-million fund, to help local unions in their efforts to recruit new members. Bensinger, a former official of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, has been head of the AFL-CIO’s institute for training union organizers.

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Bensinger offered some fiery rhetoric, saying: “To every employer who wants to take the low road, we’ll be at your doorstep, in your face, and on your conscience.”


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