As the mud begins to fly and the front-running candidates swap places in the Democratic primaries, one group of labor leaders is urging calm and unity.
Seven international vice presidents with the Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), a union with about 1.4 million members nationally, signed a public letter to the International Executive Board of their union calling for the union to halt attacks on Democratic presidential candidates.
The union endorsed Sen. Hillary Clinton last year. Now, according to the letter, the union has used resources to "wage a costly and deceptive campaign to oppose Barack Obama." Indeed, the letter adds, "according to numerous press reports AFSCME has spent untold dollars in Iowa and New Hampshire to send out mailings and run radio ads whose sole purpose is to undercut his candidacy."
Of particular concern to the letter's authors was an AFSCME funded mailing that attacked "[Obama] for not forcing individuals to purchase health care even when they can’t afford it." The seven AFSCME vice presidents called the mailing "fundamentally dishonest and inconsistent" with the union's past positions and "misleading."
The mailing was also harmful to the union, the letter read, in that it gives "the impression that they are associated with John Edwards rather than Hillary Clinton and in their claims that Sen. Obama’s health care plan will exclude 15 million people when in fact every person will have the opportunity to participate. This dishonesty is giving our union a 'black eye' among many in the media and the progressive community."
Beyond the misleading nature of the AFSCME produced mailing, said the letter, "we would object to the use of our union’s funds to attack a long-time friend of AFSCME members." The letter also noted that Obama "has stood up strongly in support of workers’ rights from his earliest days as an elected official, a candidate who included the importance of the right to form unions in his announcement speech, a candidate who has been a forceful advocate for working families."
The letter further noted that if endorsing a candidate is meant to increase the union's access to the candidates after election, "why would we want to develop a hostile relationship with the man who could be that next president?"
The letter also hinted that AFSCME's national political director has wrongfully threatened "to dilute AFSCME’s efforts in the General Election if Senator Obama is the nominee" and suggested the actions of those responsible might violate the union's constitution.
The letter concluded by urging the AFSCME leadership to halt attacks on Sen. Obama, using all available means at its disposal.
Let's hope this sort of unnecessarily divisive smear campaign ends.