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AFL-CIO Seeks to Organize the Unemployed

Working America, the organizing arm of the AFL-CIO, has announced a plan to mobilize the unemployed for the fall midterm elections, attempting to leverage a growing constituency that typically does not vote.

In a statement, the director of Working America, Karen Nussbaum, said that “Millions of people are unemployed and underemployed, and millions more are worried about the future. Twenty-five percent of Working America members who are working are afraid they will lose their jobs. Yet some politicians are willing to play politics with the survival of unemployed workers and their families. We’ll make sure that unemployed workers get out and vote, and that they know the records of the candidates on issues like extending unemployment insurance, investing in jobs and preventing outsourcing.”

There have been informal efforts to organize the unemployed, usually self-starting efforts, but this is the first from a major labor organization to undertake the same task.

Sam Stein and Arthur Delaney discussed the effort with Karen Nussbaum about the scope of the effort:

The organization is starting with 100,000 of its own members who are currently out of work. But the list of contacts could wind up being “several hundred thousand” of the nearly 15 million unemployed, said Karen Nussbaum, director of Working America. In Ohio alone, Nussbaum said, Working America has a list of 38,000 unemployed workers who are registered to vote — a major bloc that could tip the scale of the governor’s race as well as elections to the House or the Senate.

“In an election year that is incredibly volatile where we have no idea, really, what turnout’s going to look like, where we have no idea what the real appeal of right-wing candidates is going to be, and where we’re not sure what kind of information people are going to get about the key issue, which is jobs, this becomes a more influential group,” said Nussbaum.

The effort seeks to provide real information about the responsibility for the jobs crisis and who has obstructed efforts like unemployment insurance extension. Without such educational tactics, the unemployed may naturally expect that the party in power is responsible for their troubles.

Working America will canvass unemployed voters as well as mailing them informational flyers. They also plan to stake out unemployment offices and job training facilities to reach the unemployed.

If this effort can be linked up with candidates who actually support manufacturing and trade policies that would create jobs, it could be pretty successful. We see in Washington how the voiceless typically have no recourse in the face of massive lobbying operations by those with the ability to fund a voice. State fiscal funding comes at the expense of food stamp cuts. Tax cuts go much further to the rich than the poor. Organizing the unemployed, or simply the poor, would present a counter-weight. And there are more of them than there are rich people.

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David Dayen

David Dayen