SEIU Endorses Obama

February 17, 2008 at 11:15 am (Democratic Party, Democrats, elections, Obama, unions, United States, voltairespriest)

PhotobucketThe race for the Democratic presidential nomination continues apace on the other side of the pond, with Hillary Clinton (for now at least) falling behind Barack Obama following the latter’s inspired campaigning before and after Super Tuesday. Obama has now won several primaries on the trot, and he has displayed a star power that makes Clinton look dull by comparison.

Obama is amongst the most extraordinarily talented orators of his generation in US politics, and he is able to mobilise voters well beyond traditional Democratic constituencies. His supporters are younger than Clinton’s, and many have an almost messianic zeal about them which has seen him stretching leads even further on the day in places like Virginia and Maryland than the polls suggested as his activists and voters mobilised on the day.

And yet Barack Obama has had a problem throughout in connecting with the bedrock white working class voters who still make up much of the Democratic electorate in the rust belt and the big cities. In particular the labour unions whose members are still vital to the Democratic “ground war” in election campaigns have been loath to let go of the Clintons. This surely must be a case of “better the devil you know” given Bill Clinton’s record of support for big business against the common person, but nevertheless the unions’ support for Hillary has broadly held.

Until now.

In the space of two days last week, Obama picked up endorsements first from the United Food and Commercial Workers’ Union and then from the Service Employees’ International Union. Both of these are of huge significance as they may assist Obama to break out of his current constituencies – namely black voters, college graduates, professionals and the young – and to eat into Clinton’s core support from the lower income brackets. He will certainly gain vital ground troops in the Texas and Ohio, which can only help his cause as he tries to catch Clinton in those states.

I for one hope this trend continues; whilst I originally supported John Edwards, I nonetheless cannot discount the sheer political shockwave that would be generated by an Obama victory in November. His programme is by no means as progressive as Edwards’ was, and I would not want to overstate at all about what legislative changes would come from an Obama administration. Yet I suspect that his mere election would re-draw the political map in ways that would change party politics in the USA for a generation. In particular, a race between Obama and John McCain, a hate figure for the hard right in the Republican party, would see the Reagan coalition that has sustained the GOP since 1980 breaking apart. That in and of itself, combined with the indisputable message that would be sent by the election of a black candidate whose biggest selling point is his opposition to the Iraq war, leaves me at least hoping that Obama does well. Evidently there are growing numbers of people in the labour movement who agree, and I hope this stands him in good stead during the weeks and months to come.


  1. Ian said,

    Obama supports the Employee Free Choice Act, which is probably why the SEIU and the UFCWU support him.

    Lets hope Obama doesnt water it down.

  2. newcentrist said,

    According to my sources, this was not a popular decision. Support was split down the middle between Clinton and Obama. People are being asked to volunteer/canvass/etc. and are refusing to do it b/c they support Hillary.

    As far as the Reagan coalition* breaking apart, that’s been happening the entire election cycle. It was evident when the Republican candidates each spoke to a specific constituency of that coalition but were unable to bridge the cleavages between those constituencies.

    For example, Giuliani and McCain are popular with defense hawks but not anyone else in the party, Romney with fiscal conservatives (Rockefeller Republicans), Huckabee with social conservatives, Ron Paul with libertarians, Duncan Hunter with nativists, etc.

    Like the Democrats after the collapse of the New Deal Coalition, the Republicans face a difficult choice. Do they try to put Humpty Dumpty (the Reagan Coalition) back together again or is it time for something new? Change is always difficult. It was difficult for the Democrats to support someone like Clinton, a centrist who deviated from the politics of the New Deal Coalition. But, after he won the election, centrist, neoliberal, policies began to prevail in the party.

    The Republican Party is definitely undergoing a realignment the question is, in which direction? Will it move in a more centrist direction as well? Given that the southern states are so important it would seem to point to more power going to social conservatives. If they sit out this election and let McCain loose by a large margin, we can expect what the response will be. A shift to the right rather than the center. If McCain wins despite the protests of the social conservatives, it will be an indication that the party is shifting towards the center.

    *: In addition to the standard three: fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, and defense hawks, I add libertarians and nativists.

  3. voltaires_priest said,

    Hi New Centrist;

    In terms of the Obama endorsement being disputed, this information would be from sources within the SEIU hierarchy?

  4. newcentrist said,

    Hello there.

    My information comes from union members and staff but not union leadership. The leadership may have been unified on this, I don’t know, but among rank-and-file members and union staff (organizers, etc.) it was very contentious.

  5. voltaires_priest said,

    That rings true. What I don’t get (as a UK based union activist) is why? The Clintons have never done anything much for the labour movement in the USA.

  6. Bill Vroom said,

    Hey, here’s a nice, funny, site about Obama: Couldn’t stop laughing!

  7. Sunny said,

    Voltaire’s Priest – another tidbit for you… Obama’s voting record is the most leftwing of all Democrats 🙂

  8. newcentrist said,

    I’m writing from NYC and she has a lot of support in both of the major locals here (32BJ and 1199). Both locals supported Clinton. I suspect this has less to do with Bill Clinton’s policies as president than her policies as senator. She has been very friendly with the union here in NYC. On the west coast, a lot of the locals supported Edwards.

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