Embattles New Orleans Unions Fight to Rack Up Clinton Votes

NEW ORLEANS–Ever since Hurricane Katrina devastated this city in 2005, the labor movement here has battled right wing attempts to exploit that devastation.

This year unions and their allies here are adding to their list of battles a push to rack up the largest possible vote for Hillary Clinton in November.

Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO President Robert “Tiger” Hammond admitted, however, in an exclusive interview with the Peoples World, that it’s not going to be easy. “In the old days,” he said, “It was normal for 20 percent of our union members to go over to the other (Republican) side…This time I see as many as a third going over.”

“And that’s not because they really are deep-believing Republicans,” interrupted Al Bostick, the political director of Electrical Workers Local 130, as he sat with Hammond and two PW reporters at the Venezia restaurant on North Carrollton Ave.

“Many of them are working people who are hurting and they are sick and tired of feeling that their pain is not being addressed. It’s an anti-establishment thing. They see Trump as anti-establishment, even though he is no such thing.”

The comments by Bostick and Hammond reflect a phenomenon that union activists and their allies are encountering nationwide, but especially in the deep-red anti-worker South: Devotion to business mogul Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, despite his – and his party’s – anti-worker record and stands.  And even despite Trump’s sexual predations.

Bostick said that this is a “change” election and workers who feel things are not getting better for them want change.

“You saw it in both parties. With the Democrats it’s why Bernie Sanders did so well with his populist appeal. He came so close in fact to being the nominee,” Bostick said. Added Hammond: “But that’s not the only thing. For some people it’s prejudice. They fall for the rhetoric blaming immigrants or minorities.”

That was particularly notable in Louisiana, where former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, once the Republican gubernatorial nominee there and later a GOP U.S. Senate hopeful, virtually endorsed Trump – and Trump didn’t repudiate him.

Asked what he tells union members when trying to get over these problems, Hammond said: “We explain that whatever you think about Hillary, nothing is more important than the issues – whether it’s prevailing wages, the right to union representation, health care, good public education, a livable union wage, regulations for food safety, good public parks and libraries – all the things families need – Hillary has the program. Trump will throw all of that out. There is no choice, we say, it has to be Hillary.”

Bostick added: “Even if we take back the Senate this time, we can lose it again in two years and if Trump is president you will have the House, the Senate, the White House and the Supreme Court all controlled by anti-labor Republicans. They would be able to put us back in the Dark Ages.

When asked who would actually carry Louisiana in November, Hammond predicted: “It’ll be 60-40 in favor of the other side (Trump).” Polls show similar lopsided pro-Trump tilts in other Deep South states, including Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina, plus Oklahoma, which now votes like a deep-South deep-red state.

In all of them, unions and their allies are fighting uphill to try to convince workers – and other voters – to back Clinton, not Trump.

“Two months ago I would have said Hillary had a chance of winning Louisiana,” Bostick chimed in. “But with all the free media attention to Trump’s rhetoric and all the free campaigning they do for him I think I agree now with Tiger.”

Then why campaign for Clinton? “Because we will carry Southern Louisiana big time for Clinton,” said Hammond, which he said will help labor and progressives win some local races in that region. “And on that note, we’ve already had some big election wins for labor here in Louisiana.”

Hammond was referring to the election late last year of John Bel Edwards, a populist Democrat, as governor of the state. “Edwards will be the first to tell you that it was labor support that was critical in getting him elected.” Edwards won 56 percent of the vote.

Edwards defeated David Vitter, the retiring right-wing U.S. senator who sought the governorship upon the exit of then-incumbent Gov. Bobby Jindal (R). Jindal was term-limited out of office – and his popularity had sunk to record lows due to his hard-right stands.

Hammond boasted about Edwards having announced his intention to run at a labor-backed fund-raising event in New Orleans where he said unions raised some $18,000 for the insurgent Democratic campaign.

Bostick described the various factors that helped Edwards to victory. “First you had a scandal-ridden David Vitter, the anti-labor Republican who had disgraced himself. Then you had Democrats — who had been misled into at first backing Jindal — coming back home. And then you had Edwards running a strong populist campaign upstate and a strong labor campaign in New Orleans.”

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, groups like the teachers — whose union was destroyed under the reign of former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco — were lured into backing Jindal.

The Republican, who later made a brief and unsuccessful run for the GOP presidential nod, turned out, of course, to be totally in the hands of people pushing private profiteering solutions to the rebuilding of New Orleans.

“He was privatizing everything,” Bostick said of Jindal, which “really slowed and prevented recovery for the majority of the people.”

Hammond and Bostick said Edwards’ election has paid off for working people. “On Day One of his term Edwards signed Louisiana fully into the Affordable Care Act (Medicaid) program, lifting the ban Jindal had put on acceptance of federal funds for health care for the poor. Already 200,000 poor people in Louisiana have medical care now, as a result. So you see our election work makes a difference, a big difference. You will see us out there every day between now and November 8,” Hammond explained.

Describing the election work, Hammond and Bostick said discussions are held at job sites and there are phone banking operations and door knocking campaigns, as is the case involving AFL-CIO unions in other states across the country.

What of the national race? Hammond, boasting he has never in his life called a national election wrong, predicted: “Hillary Clinton is our next president. She had a big lead after the convention and now you see the normal narrowing in the polls. Here in Louisiana and all across this great country of ours that very narrowing is going to bring out a huge vote for Hillary. Everyone who is voting for her will call friends and relatives and get everyone out. She will win by six points at least. You will see. But don’t wait to see, get out and make it happen!”

Source: (PAI) John Wojcik Editor, Peoples World