Orienting candidates’ platforms to working families’ economic priorities while turning out greater percentages of eligible union voters to the polls will strengthen unions’ political influence, said Political Director Steve Rosenthal. He said this effort will also help the Democratic Party—which unions have traditionally supported—regain positions on the government’s legislative and executive branches.
His presentation, the first of four forums that the Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program will sponsor over the next month, assembled an audience of about 30 labor activists and specialists from throughout the United States.
Labor expert and Friendly Professor of Law Paul C. Weiler moderated the forum with Elaine Bernard, executive director of Harvard’s Trade Union Program.
Rosenthal suggested the failure of the Democratic Party to garner influence in the 2000 presidential and 2002 legislative elections was partially the result of poor efforts to align its campaign goals to the interests of union members.
“The labor movement has been supporting the Democrats for so long that they take us for granted,” he said.
“I’m not trying to say, ‘I told you so,’ but I told you so,” he said, explaining that labor officials had urged Democratic campaigners to take their interests more seriously throughout the past two campaigns.
Rosenthal emphasized the increasing influence of union voters over the past 10 years. Whereas 19 percent of all voters were union members in 1992, union voters accounted for 26 percent of all votes cast in the 2000 national election.
The number of non-union voters, by contrast, has declined consistently within each state over the same time period.
The majority of union members voted for Al Gore ’69 in the 2000 presidential elections, while the non-unionists supported George W. Bush, Rosenthal said.
“If you had taken away all the union votes for Gore, it wouldn’t have been a close election at all,” he said.
The AFL-CIO is working to ensure that a candidate sympathetic to its interests wins the next presidential election, he said.
“We are very, very focused on the 2004 race,” he said.
He said he is confident about the outcome of the election, because of the AFL-CIO’s demographically based strategy for ensuring union voter turnout.
The AFL-CIO’s projections suggest that 14 states will determine the outcome of the 2004 presidential election. If unions compel their members to vote through the AFL-CIO’s methods of listening to members’ priorities and recruiting voters, he said, the union-favored candidate will win by a broad margin.
“It’s not like threading a needle. There is going to be plenty of room for a Democrat to win,” Rosenthal said.