Tuesday, February 17, 2004
Labor leaders representing 5 million workers, who originally endorsed Rep. Richard Gephardt's presidential campaign, officially backed Sen. John Kerry Tuesday, two days before the AFL-CIO was expected lend its backing to the Massachusetts senator. The endorsement came on the day of the Wisconsin primary, where Kerry is the strong favorite.
In doing so, they bet their money on a Democrat who voted for the North American Free Trade Agreement, which labor loathes, and who butted heads with the United Auto Workers over higher mileage standards for automobiles.
Gephardt and nine union presidents, including Teamsters President James P. Hoffa, embraced Kerry during a morning rally in a Milwaukee hotel. In many respects, it was not a passionate embrace, but one of hard-nosed politics.
As Hoffa said, "John Kerry has a quality all of us know: He can beat George Bush!"
Indeed, the labor presidents, who joined under the name of the Alliance for Economic Justice, didn't mince their words when it came to their disdain for the president and his administration. Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers of America, referred to "Bush and his gang of economic thugs."
"George Bush and his right wing henchmen think labor is on the run," said Boyd Young of the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers (PACE).
Hoffa, playing off Bush's proposal to revitalize the space program, initiated a chant: "Send Bush to Mars! Send Bush to Mars!" that the crowd gleefully picked up.
Kerry and Hoffa have long had strained relations. Complicating matters has been Kerry's reliance on Sen. Ted Kennedy, who has lent his support and staff to Kerry's candidacy. Kennedy's brother Robert, was counsel to a U.S. Senate committee investigating labor unions in the 1950s, and carried out a long-time feud with Hoffa's father, Jimmy Hoffa.
- Jim Kuhnhenn, Knight Ridder Washington Bureau
posted by Ellen Dunkel at 10:35 AM
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