AFL-CIO hoping for change

By ELLIOT SMILOWITZ  |  Nov. 2, 2004 at 11:50 PM
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 2 (UPI) -- Four years after President Bush's dramatic and disputed election victory, the AFL-CIO gathered at its headquarters celebrating its yearlong voter-awareness campaign designed to oust the president.

"I'm cautiously optimistic," said United Food and Commercial Workers President Joe Hansen at the outset of the night. "Exit polls have indicated good news for us thus far."

Union member Jim Norton was encouraged by the fact that several states were too close to call but was guarded in his glee. "It's still going to be a long night," Norton said.

Baltimore schoolteacher and voting-rights advocate Joyce Wheeler noted the latent fear in the room of another disputed election. "The vote has to be overwhelming and decisive," she said.

Wheeler, who visited several polling places during the day, said she saw the youth and middle-class vote come out strong to the polls. She said that when she went to vote in Baltimore she had to wait 90 minutes to get in because of the line of voters, something she called "inspiring."

Fellow partygoer Amy Morris added that she waited one hour, 40 minutes in line to vote, by far the longest she's ever had to wait.

"Seeing that line of voters was thrilling," she said.

Union member Marge Tracy said she had never seen such enthusiasm among voters. "It was amazing to see how people are so galvanized," she said.

Tracy said that even though the 2000 election was close, this year's election is more passionate because of the Iraqi conflict. "People don't agree with the war on terror becoming the war in Iraq," she said.

Unhappiness with Bush's performance was a common theme among union members present. Norton expressed displeasure with the president's economic policy, saying, "He's taking the country in the wrong direction."

Wheeler said it was important for union workers to make their voices heard this election. "The working-class and ruling-class interests in this country are not the same," she said.

Hansen accused Bush of "ignoring the working people" and said that "the wealthy are getting richer and all others are being pulled to the bottom" under Bush.

Union member John T. Pappas, who described himself as "ecstatic" with Kerry's strong early returns, said he was doubtful of Bush's campaign promises. "He says he has a plan to put people to work," Pappas said. "What has he been doing the last four years?"

Hansen echoed this complaint, saying, "The loss of good jobs to overseas is a big concern."

Norton, who blamed outsourcing for eliminating economic catalysts from the U.S. workforce, said, "We're still in a recession, and it's been a very slow recovery."

"I can't support a president who is fiscally irresponsible," added Tracey.

Bush's foreign policy was a subject of union scorn as well. Hansen noted that many workers he's talked to expressed concern about the cost of lives and money in Iraq.

Pappas accused the president of willful dishonesty, saying he "lied to the American people" and called Iraq a "quagmire."

When CNN projected Kerry as the winner in New Jersey, a cheer went up in the crowd. Even aside from their views on Bush, partygoers saw Kerry as a ray of hope. "Kerry offers a positive alternative," Hansen said.

"Kerry talks about actually funding education, not just slogans," he added.

Pappas said that Kerry has been articulate and honest with the American people and led an exemplary campaign.

Norton expressed surprise with Bush's popularity in manufacturing-heavy "swing states" like Ohio and Pennsylvania, which have been hit hard by outsourcing problems. "Plants in these areas are not operating on skeleton crews, they are closed up," he said.

"There are small communities in cities that are absolutely decimated by the closings," Norton said.

Even while watching the election results roll in, Wheeler recognized that election night was not the end of her battle. "The next task is to stay in the streets and continue to work with the followers," she said. "We campaigned on issues, not just to elect a candidate."

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