Though George McGovern has not held elective office since he lost his Senate seat from South Dakota in 1980, the two most powerful figures in organized labor thought he was important enough yesterday to denounce him.
In strongly-worded replies after my reference to McGovern during a press breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor yesterday, both the outgoing and incoming presidents of the AFL-CIO blasted the 1972 Democratic Presidential nominee for his opposition to the unions’ most sought-after legislation: the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which includes the controversial “card check” measure that McGovern and others insist would end the secret ballot in union elections.
Last year, in both an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal and a television commercial he cut for an anti-EFCA group, liberal icon McGovern said that the labor-backed legislation “runs counter to the ideals that were once at the core of the labor movement. Instead of providing a voice for the unheard, EFCA risks silencing those who would speak.”
“McGovern is wrong,” said John Sweeney, who will step down as head of the labor conclave at the next AFL-CIO convention later this month, “He is saying things that are wrong, that aren’t true. He’s listening to the Chamber of Commerce and not working Americans.”
The outgoing AFL-CIO President went on to predict passage for EFCA in Congress because President Obama “will be supporting it after he gets health care.” Sweeney also said that Vice President Biden would also weigh in strongly for passage of the measure after a health care reform package is enacted.
Sweeney added his opinion that McGovern “still has bad feelings about the support we gave him in 1972” — leading columnist Mark Shields to quip “You mean lack of support?” That year, under the late President George Meany, the AFL-CIO did not endorse Democratic nominee McGovern in his race against President Richard Nixon. Fierce anti-Communist Meany could not stomach McGovern’s anti-Vietnam War position.
Rich Trumka, the AFL-CIO secretary treasurer, was even stronger in his denunciation of McGovern than the man he appears sure to succeed in the presidency of the union confederation.
“Poor George,” Trumka told the Monitor breakfast, “He was paid to do an ad [against EFCA]. He spoke out against the Vietnam War. We’ve had three or four wars since and he had nothing to say. Now he comes back on the field to make war against the workers.”
McGovern: “I Don’t Sell My Ideas”
Less than an hour after Sweeney and Trumka weighed in against McGovern, I reached the 87-year-old McGovern at his home in South Dakota.
“No, the AFL-CIO’s position in 1972 had nothing to do with my opinion on EFCA,” the former three-term senator told me, in response to Sweeney’s criticism, “Yes, I was disappointed that George Meany said he couldn’t tell the difference between Nixon and me. I always had a very good record on union issues.
“My position on EFCA is what it is because I believe in the secret ballot in elections, including those for labor unions. To not have a secret ballot, I feel, is against the national interest.”
Was McGovern paid for the television commercial he cut for anti-EFCA Employee Freedom Action Committee, as Trumka said?
“No, I was not,” he replied without hesitation, “I don’t sell my ideas.”
McGovern went on to say that “I have never met John Sweeney or Rich Trumka. If I have, I don’t remember them. But I have talked to other officials of the AFL-CIO about this issue and I have made my position clear to them.”