BETWEEN THE LINES: Electrical Workers Union Endorses Nader

At their annual convention Aug. 30, the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America became the third union to endorse Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader.

Other unions endorsing Nader include the California Nurses Association and the Los Angeles American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Local 1108. Although labor has traditionally been joined at the hip to the Democratic Party, recent conflicts on free trade issues such as North American Free Trade Agreement and World Trade Organization policies have strained the relationship between unions and centrist "New Democrats" like Bill Clinton and Al Gore.

While the AFL-CIO endorsed Vice President Gore's campaign early on, large unions like the United Automobile Workers, the Teamsters and the United Steel Workers have been reluctant to endorse the Democratic ticket. Both the UAW and Teamsters interviewed Ralph Nader and publicly expressed support for his anti-free trade and pro-labor positions, but have since endorsed the Gore-Lieberman ticket.

Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Robert Clark, secretary treasurer of the United Electrical Workers, who explains why his union chose to endorse Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader.

Robert Clark: Decades of corporate control of the Democratic and Republican parties convinced us that we have no choice but to escape the two-party trap. As you probably know, our union is one of the international unions that has endorsed the Labor Party since 1996. Our union has always advocated third parties, parties that really represent the views of workers and not those of corporations. We're convinced that we did the right thing. Although I doubt that Nader will win, if nothing else, it will push the Democrats more to the center. By center, I mean not from the left, but from the right to the center. We're proud and happy with our endorsement.

Between The Lines: How did you at the union deal with the "lesser evil" analysis, where many are saying that a vote for Nader is really a vote for George W. Bush -- who certainly by degree would be more unfriendly to some of your most important issues?

Robert Clark: As a matter of fact, it was the most discussed issue (at our convention). We had some people that had a real problem with that. They felt that in some states, one or two percent of the vote could help Bush win. Look, sooner or later you have to stop guilt-tripping your membership to vote for the lesser of two evils. I'm convinced that the George Bush Sr. Administration could not have gotten General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade or NAFTA passed. But Clinton, once elected, brought those Democrats that were riding the fence on that question over to vote for free trade.

There's no doubt that there's some unions that are really mad at us for what we're doing. But we think we did the right thing. We handled the tough questions about allowing Bush to gain steam in some states, but at some point in time, you have to walk the walk, and that's what we're doing.

Between The Lines: What are some of the most important issues to the United Electrical Workers' rank and file? What were some of the hot topics that Ralph Nader won you over on?

Robert Clark: There's three or four of them. The first one was that he made a promise to rescind the GATT and NAFTA trade deals, and the most recent China deal (for Permanent Normalized Trade Relations status). He made a commitment to repeal Taft-Hartley, legislation which is the sole problem of why we can't organize the unorganized. If you talk to any human being now that knows how this stuff works, they would agree that the Taft-Hartley Act has been the death of the union, because it defines the rules under which labor has to play with and in almost in every case, sides with the bosses.

Between The Lines: What are some of the other issues that Ralph Nader was strong on that won your unions' support for him?

Robert Clark: He was strong on the whole issue of privatization and social security. Gore has said that Social Security needs some tinkering with. In my mind, that means something needs to be fixed, but we don't think it's broken. Nader agreed on that. He's good on the environmental questions. But the most promising thing was his position on trade and how NAFTA and GATT and these type of trade deals were bad for all countries.

Between The Lines: What will the United Electrical Workers' endorsement mean to Ralph Nader in terms of money and people power on the streets trying to get out the vote?

Robert Clark: It won't mean anything as far as money. Because our union -- and I'm proud to say this -- doesn't have a committee on political education fund. But we can put some soldiers in the field where he's on the ballot. It's going to help him in certain states. Look, I'm not going to accept that argument any more about voting for the lesser of two evils. Sooner or later, labor has to move. If I thought that I was leading my union down the wrong path, I would say so. I'm clear that we're doing the right thing. I'm clear on that and I just wish there were other unions that would have enough guts to follow us. And I think there will be some.

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