John Edwards won the endorsement of the United Steelworkers and the United Mine Workers of America as more than 1,000 union members cheered the Democratic presidential candidate.
“America was not built on Wall Street. America was built by steelworkers and mine workers,” Edwards told supporters at a downtown Labor Day rally and parade.
Wearing union T-shirts and carrying signs that urged an end to the war in Iraq, the crowd booed heartily when UMW President Cecil Roberts brought up the name of President Bush. Roberts said Bush is to blame for many good-paying U.S. jobs going overseas.
Earlier, Edwards suggested New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign represents politics-as-usual in Washington and that Edwards represents a break from the past.
“We just have a disagreement,” Edwards said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “Sen. Clinton defends Washington lobbyists and the system that exists in Washington and thinks she can work within that system. If that were true we would already have universal health care. If that were true America would already be attacking global warming in a serious way.”
Edwards takes lead for labor endorsements
The steelworker and mine worker endorsements mean that Edwards now has more labor endorsements than any Democratic presidential candidate.
The former senator from North Carolina has also secured the backing of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.
Clinton has been endorsed by the United Transportation Union and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd has been endorsed by the International Association of Fire Fighters.
The United Steelworkers is the largest industrial union in North America, with 850,000 members and retirees in the metals, mining, rubber, paper, oil refining, chemicals and service industries.
The mine workers union has been in the news recently, advocating for increased safety for coal miners. The union, which includes coal miners, clean coal technicians, health care workers, truck drivers and school board employees, claimed more than 86,000 members on its 2006 Labor Department disclosure forms.
The Steelworkers endorsed former Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt in the 2004 primaries until he dropped out, and then threw their support behind the failed presidential candidacy of Democratic Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.
Union membership on the decline
The Steelworkers gave $2.4 million, all to Democrats, in the 2006 House and Senate races in which the GOP lost control of Congress. In the last presidential cycle, the Steelworkers gave almost $1.2 million to federal candidates, with 99 percent of the 2004 money going to Democrats.
In 2004, the mine workers union gave $510,100 to federal candidates, with 93 percent of it going to Democrats. The United Mine Workers gave $496,050 in the 2006 elections, with 97 percent of it going to Democrats.
Edwards knows union membership has been on the decline, dropping to 12 percent in 2006, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But he said “strengthening and growing the labor movement is important to strengthening and growing the middle class.”
Among the earliest primary states, Edwards’ pro-labor message may be hardest to sell in South Carolina. Union members make up 3 percent of the work force there, the lowest share of the work force in any of the early Democratic primary voting states.