OAKLAND – Ralph Nader, the self-styled “patented underdog, available for license,” was in downtown Oakland Thursday urging unions across the nation to throw their support behind his presidential campaign.
“The AFL-CIO got nothing in return for endorsing Gore,” Nader told a group of union organizers gathered at the California Nurses Headquarters, one of four locals to endorse his campaign. “If you’re too close to one party, you’re taken for granted,” he said.
He called on locals to make their own political endorsements.
“We need a grassroots revolt of locals,” he told the group of more than 40 Bay Area labor organizers. “If you could hear the way Democrats talk about how they maintain their support from labor, it’s disgraceful.”
Nader, the Green Party candidate for president, has emphasized workers’ rights throughout his campaign. He has urged repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act, which was adopted 53 years ago to slow the growth of labor unions. He has called for treble damages when companies unfairly fire workers during a union organizing drive.
In June, the California Nurses Association, the largest organization of registered nurses in the nation, endorsed Nader, praising his “outspoken stance on behalf of an overhaul of the nation’s health care system and strong advocacy of nurses’ and patients’ rights.”
But it’s been slow going. Since then, only three other locals have followed suit.
Jan Pierce, labor outreach coordinator for Nader’s campaign, however, calls it a good beginning.
“No campaign has a chance if it doesn’t have institutional backing. Each endorsement gives us credibility.
“We have the nurses on the west, the electrical workers on the east, and now we’re trying to fill in between.”
Every local that joins the campaign paves the way for additional locals to break rank with their national representatives, Pierce argued.
“There’s a lot of fear and intimidation out there because the national unions went with Gore. Organized labor is actually quite cocky about their rank and file. My goal is just to get some locals to go public to give others cover to join as well,” Pierce said.
Nader’s speech hit home, when he called for the U.S. to issue a six month notice of withdrawal from the World Trade Organization and North American Free Trade Agreements to protest the loss of “good American jobs” and the degradation of international labor.
“We can’t compete with slave labor in China where dictatorial repressive labor conditions (mean workers earn) 32 cents an hour in Guangdong province,” Nader said.
Pierce added: “We’ve been promised that NAFTA, GATT, and the WTO deals, would protect American labor. Guess what? They didn’t. To fall in line with the Democrats means ceding good jobs overseas where we can’t compete.”
In town to speak at anti-WTO rallies at San Francisco State and San Jose State, Nader punctuated his meeting with a call to action.
“Labor never got anywhere without being militant,” he told the unionists. “There is something erupting here and in Michigan,” he said.
Though Nader invoked the Chinese labor situation to spur union support, he said he was also aware that anti-Chinese sentiment is a double edged sword in America.
Asked about his opinion of the Wen Ho Lee case, the scientist recently freed from nine months of incarceration, Nader said, “Lee was railroaded, scapegoated. Lee deserves his freedom, and may very well have a law suit against the government.”