AFL-CIO leader: Hillary needs a primary, Obama needs bold action

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has not endorsed Hillary Clinton for president: A 'coronation' is 'dangerous for the candidate,' he says. Meanwhile, he's urging Obama to go bold on immigration.

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka speaks at a breakfast for reporters sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor in Washington Thursday.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka praised Hillary Clinton as a potential Democratic presidential candidate in 2016 but held back from endorsing her, citing two concerns.

After calling Mrs. Clinton “very, very qualified to be president” and the current favorite among Democratic voters, Mr. Trumka argued Thursday, at a Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters, that her candidacy would benefit from a primary.  

“Anytime anybody believes there is going to be a coronation, that is dangerous for the candidate,” he said. “The candidate needs to be developing a grass roots system and support around the country.... And I think, quite frankly, that is precisely what she is doing.”

Trumka, head of the nation’s largest labor federation, also noted that before endorsing anyone in 2016, labor leaders intended to probe potential candidates about the composition of their economic teams. “If you get the same economic team, you will get the same results, and the same results aren’t good enough for working people,” Trumka said. During the session, he was sharply critical of the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) signed by President Clinton.

To avoid the division over presidential candidates that the labor movement endured in the 2008 battle between Barack Obama and Clinton, Trumka said that, for 2016, all of the member unions of the AFL-CIO have signed a written agreement that “no one will endorse until we decide that all of us are going to endorse.”

When asked whether President Obama had been good for the labor movement, Trumka said, “He is trying ... he has done some things to help. No, we would like to see a lot more, the economy needs a lot more.”

Obama is expected to take executive action on immigration in the next few weeks. "I hope it is bold enough to be worthwhile,” Trumka said. Regardless of what the president does, “the right wing is going to go bonkers.” Bold action is the best course, the labor leader said since, “If he goes mild, he will energize the right but he won’t energize the center and the left.”

When asked what the labor movement would consider to be bold action on immigration, Trumka said: “affirmative action with workers to let them come out of the shadows,” as well as taking control of immigration law enforcement back from the states and cities.

Trumka offered a sober assessment of the state of the labor movement in advance of next week’s Labor Day holiday. Despite some laid-off union workers being called back to their jobs, “we are still in crisis, Trumka said. “We are still too small to be able to change the economy to make it a shared economy or a prosperity for all.”

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