Minnesota unions meet with focus on elections


DULUTH – Union members from across the state, gathered for the biennial convention of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, are focused on one goal: electing worker-friendly candidates in the November elections.
More than 500 delegates representing 300,000 working Minnesotans are attending the three-day convention at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center. On Sunday, they heard from several elected officials and labor-endorsed candidate Al Franken.

“If you’re ready for a change, I need you to stand with me,” Franken, the DFL-endorsed candidate for U.S. Senate, told the delegates. Franken hopes to defeat Republican U.S. Senator Norm Coleman, who was elected in 2002 to fill the seat held by the late Paul Wellstone.

Franken talked about meeting a retired Iron Range Steelworker who was struggling to make ends meet after his pension was slashed by a large corporation. The Steelworker said he didn’t feel that elected officials like Coleman were aware of his plight.

“The biggest difference between me and Norm Coleman is in who we think a senator is supposed to work for,” Franken said. “I think I’m supposed to work for that retired Steelworker in Eveleth. I think I’m supposed to work for the middle-class mom who is worried sick because her daughter is in a class with too many kids and they don’t have the financial means to send her to college. I think that I’m supposed to be fighting for the hundreds of thousands of homeowners in this state who’ve seen the equity in their homes fall apart.

“Norm Coleman thinks being a senator is a game” and “accepts hundreds of thousands in checks from corporate special interests.

“Then he comes back to Minnesota and pretends it never happened.”

Franken struck a familiar theme at the convention – that Republicans like Norm Coleman and presidential candidate John McCain supported and will continue the disastrous economic policies of the Bush administration.

Congressman James Oberstar, who represents Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District, blasted McCain for repeatedly backing proposals to turn Social Security over to Wall Street investment brokers.

“Social Security has never missed a payment, It has never bounced a check and it has paid benefits to over 400 million of our fellow citizens,” Oberstar said. “It’s there. You can count on it. But you can’t count on McCain.”
U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, a DFLer, urged union members to work hard to elect Franken and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

“This is a grass roots movement, not just to win the election but also to get something done in Washington,” she said. With a Democratic president and Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, progress can be made in many areas, including renewable energy, job creation, infrastructure and benefits for military veterans, she said.

Playing off recent candidate and media comments, she noted, “The people of this country are ready for a change. You read my lipstick – they’re ready for a change.”

Delegates will put the words into action Monday when they adjourn the convention to join in a citywide doorknock on behalf of labor-endorsed candidates. Titled “Turn Around America,” the effort to reach out to union families in Duluth is being coordinated as part of the “Labor 2008” campaign.