States of the unions: the labor vote in Iowa and nationwide
For now it's blue-collar for Gephardt, white-collar for Dean - but come November, they say, they'll unite to collar Bush.
DES MOINES, IOWA
Iowans Olin Clayton and Paula Sandlin are two sides of the union movement. They are weighed down with pins, plastered in bright stickers for their chosen candidates - Rep. Dick Gephardt for Mr. Clayton, Howard Dean for Ms. Sandlin - and their political journeys may tell the story of who will win the Iowa caucuses come Monday night, and how cohesive the Democratic party will be next November.Skip to next paragraph
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Clayton lost two factory jobs in his native Illinois - one of which he'd held for 20 years - before moving to Des Moines. So when he listens to Dick Gephardt decry NAFTA, the political is personal indeed. Now a fork-truck driver at the local Firestone plant, Clayton has translated frustration into zealous political activism. He and fellow union members call Gephardt "one of us," and he has calculated that 86 percent of those caucusing in his precinct could support Gephardt on Monday night.
"This is the candidate who's been with us for 27 years," Clayton says, after a rally of steelworkers, teamsters, auto workers, and members of 15 other unions. "Dick has walked the walk. He's done the job." Cheers of "Gephardt!" are deafening.
To Sandlin, a secretary at Iowa State University and president of her union chapter, the choice is more practical than passionate. At meeting of AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees) in Ames, not everyone is set on Dean. Promoters cite his electability and momentum more than any stance. Still, AFSCME's endorsement has led some to take another look, and they like what they see. "I like his school issues," says Sandlin, "and I think he can beat President Bush."
Come November, of course, the differences that now pit union against union and make opponents of old allies will be less visible. Sandlin and Clayton will vote for the same man, in hopes of achieving their ultimate goal: Get rid of President Bush.
But that split - blue-collar, industrial workers for Gephardt, more white-collar unions like AFSCME and service employees (SEIU) for Dean - remains telling, and mirrors what some see as a broader split along lines of class, education, and issues within the Democratic party.
"Dean has mobilized this army of young people like McCarthy did - a little more idealistic than most people, passionate about him, more upwardly mobile," says Steffen Schmidt, a political science professor at Iowa State University. "If you do the demographics on someone like Gephardt, you'd find his base is more traditional, more small-town people, or people who he's already done something for."
In that light, says Professor Schmidt, the division isn't surprising. While many industrial workers have watched jobs go overseas and are fighting for their survival, white-collar workers feel more secure. The split endorsement, he says, "is really a reflection of the changes in American society of globalization, and how that affects different sections of the labor market."
Here in Iowa, home to 135,000 AFL-CIO union members, labor politics may be a deciding factor Monday night. Gephardt is trailing Dean closely in the most recent polls, thanks largely to the passionate union base that helped him win Iowa caucuses in 1988.