AFL CIO At War With Blue Dogs

When I arrived early at the press breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor Wednesday (September 2nd) and had some private conversation with incoming AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka, I was pleasantly surprised at his rather warm reminiscences.  Recalling his days as president of the United Mine Workers, Trumka told me how the once mean-spirited factionalism that exploded with the murder of UMW reformer Joseph Yablonski was behind them, that the UMW “old guard” and the “Miners for Democracy” faction had come together.  Of his onetime arch-enemy Sam Church (whom Trumka unseated from the UMW presidency), he recalled how he later made him head of the union’s political action committee and helped Church’s son get an appointment to a service academy.  

“And I spoke at the memorial service after Sam died recently,” Trumka said.

All very warm indeed.  And that’s why I was surprised to hear Trumka — now secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO and soon to be its president — declare all-out war on his latest arch-enemies, the “Blue Dog” Democrats in the House who are now the biggest roadblock to the “public option” that Trumka and the union consider a non-negotiable part of any health care package.  

Would the AFL-CIO, I asked, support primary challenges to the Blue Dog Democrats who opposed a health care package that included public option?

“You mean will we educate their constituencies on their voting records?”  Trumka replied, “Absolutely!”

Although he stopped short of naming which “Blue Dogs” he would target in primaries next year, Trumka re-stated AFL-CIO’s commitment to public option and said that the union confederation  has “targeted people who aren’t on that side.”  

Trumka said union members would write their Members of Congress, let them know of their support for public option, “and at election time, we will give them the facts.”  

“Then, we’ll see who votes against it,” he told me, concluding that, yes, the AFL-CIO will back opponents of lawmakers who “voted to make big insurance companies wealthier”—which was Trumka’s euphemism throughout the breakfast for those Members of Congress who do not want a public  option.

A week before the Monitor breakfast, former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean predicted that Democratic congressman who do not support a health care reform package that includes a public option run the risk of a primary challenge next year.  

At the breakfast two days ago, Dean’s prediction seemed to be validated by the man who in two weeks will be heading one  of the pillars of the Democratic Party, the AFL-CIO.