AFL-CIO Convention: Reform? We'll take it!

Asked whether the AFL-CIO would stick to earlier statements that the federation will not support a health care reform bill without a government-insurance “public option,” incoming federation President Rich Trumka ducked this morning.

President Obama has said he would fight for a public option, Trumka reminded reporters, and “you should take the president at his word ” (despite Obama’s recent backing away from the public option).

Earlier, Trumka was equally equivocal about labor law reform. The convention will be addressed tomorrow by Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, who has criticized union strong-arm tactics and promised to oppose “card check.”

Facing a fierce challenge from an even-more virulent species of Republican, Specter decided to switch teams and will run as a Democrat next fall.

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Asked why Specter had been invited to speak to the delegates, Trumka said that Specter had “seen the light” and would “support labor law reform.” Will he support card check? asked freelance labor journalist Steve Early. “He will support labor law reform,” insisted Trumka, through several rounds of back and forth.

Despite tough talk about punishing politicians that don’t stand with working people, all signs are that the AFL-CIO will support whatever the Obama administration can wring from a stubbornly reluctant Congress—one with healthy Democratic majorities in both houses—declare victory, and keep pumping millions into their re-election efforts.

When will labor stop leading with its chin? Not soon, it seems.

Jane Slaughter is a former editor of Labor Notes and co-author of Secrets of a Successful Organizer.