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Monitor Breakfast with AFL-CIO President Gerald McEntee

AFL-CIO President Gerald McEntee discusses the future of union political strength in America.

By David T. Cook / March 14, 2003



Gerald McEntee is president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees and chair of the AFL-CIO's political committee.

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Last June, Gerald McEntee was reelected president of AFSCME for his seventh consecutive four-year term. He is co-founder and chairman of the board of the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank. He began his career in 1958 as a labor organizer in Philadelphia after receiving a bachelor's degree in economics from LaSalle University.

On the American labor movement's health:

"The [AFL-CIO] now is down to about 11 or 11.5 percent of the workforce in America. If we go down to lower than 10 percent of the American workforce - and as I said we have been dropping - we really become no social force in this country with no power to change national social issues. So the federation and its affiliate unions continue to work on a program of organizing and of politics."

On the climate for labor with Republicans in control of the government:

"For our union, these are probably the most difficult, hardest times that we have ever encountered."

On damage to Democrats from remarks by Virginia Congressman Jim Moran asserting Jews determine America's policy toward Iraq:

"I think that the Democratic leadership has to act in a very speedy way to dispel Moran's remarks. This is not the first time Moran has made remarks that are similar to this...he always had the tendency to have foot in mouth disease and continues to be affected by that. I don't know what position the Democratic Party, what action they will take, but they have to take a very serious and public action in relationship to Moran."

On the Democratic presidential candidate with the most labor support:

"My judgment would be that [Richard] Gephardt probably has the most inherent labor support of any candidate. I think it will be very hard, even with the record he has, with the support that he has, to garner the 2/3rds vote [needed for labor endorsement]. Now he might be able to do it and I think he will be the only one that would be able to do that. But it is still a question mark."

On winnowing presidential candidates: "People say the first big deal in this is the Iowa caucuses. I think the first big deal is money and what your financial reports show. I think the second big deal is if you can get labor. Because if you can get American labor, you get overnight a built-in infrastructure in terms of workers, resources, and mobilization. That is a big deal."

On the economy's role in the 2004 election:

"If the economy continues in the tank, then I think it is obviously a very, very positive thing for the Democrats."

On foreign policy's impact in the 2004 campaign:

"I think the foreign policy [impact] remains to be seen. It is a wild card. What happens in Iraq, what happens after Iraq, what happens in North Korea, what happens in Iran, what happens in the Middle East. There are so many wild cards that have been dealt out in terms of foreign policy. Thus far [President Bush] has been able to retain the support of the American people on the war.... He is taking an incredible gamble in terms of what he is doing - a gamble for our country, our people, and indeed for his own politics. He is holding some difficult, difficult cards. It could come out Iraq is a total disaster..."

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