TOPICS > Politics

As Convention Ramps Up, Democrats Pay Special Attention to Unions on Labor Day

September 3, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
As organizers prepare for the 2012 Democratic National Convention and thousands flock to Charlotte, N.C., special attention is paid to organized labor, which was a big part of President Obama's win four years ago. Meanwhile, members of the Occupy movement went to the streets to protest. Ray Suarez reports.
LISTEN SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

GWEN IFILL: It’s the Democrats’ turn, and thousands of them arrived in North Carolina today and over the weekend for their presidential nominating convention beginning here tomorrow evening.

Ray Suarez is with us here in Charlotte this week, covering the action inside and outside the convention.

Today began with a traditional Labor Day parade.

RAY SUAREZ: For almost 130 years, Americans have honored working people on Labor Day. The holiday came into being during a time of tremendous conflict between owners, workers and government. These days, it’s noted more as the relaxed end of summer, a day for fun.

This is CarolinaFest, Charlotte’s way of showcasing American products and honoring the workers who make them. Delegates, elected officials and reporters have poured into Charlotte, one of the capitals of the new South, for the quadrennial confab.

The city was chosen after the president won three Southern states on the way to the White House. Now North Carolina is looking a little less certain to stay in the Obama column.

Don Fowler, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, says Charlotte 2012 is a long-term investment.

DON FOWLER, former Democratic National Committee chairman: This convention being here will be useful and helpful to North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina, and other Southern states. It really is a prospective investment by the Democratic Party in the South, and I think it will pay off.

MAYOR ANTHONY FOXX, Charlotte, N.C.: Are you fired up?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

RAY SUAREZ: The mayor of Charlotte says his city hosting the convention is a sign the Democrats no longer surrender the South to the GOP.

ANTHONY FOXX: I think it says that we’re playing offense, and not defense. We’re going into territory that Republicans have traditionally taken for granted, and we’re competing for those votes. And I think that’s exactly what this party ought to be doing.

RAY SUAREZ: Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan is also in North Carolina, while the man at the top of the ticket has no public schedule. Ryan is trying to solidify recent polls here trending Mitt Romney’s way.

REP. PAUL RYAN, R-Wis.: This is one of those kinds of elections where a handful of states may make the determination, not just of who your next governor is going to be, or just who your next president is going to be, but what kind of land your kids will inherit. This is it. And we can do this. The point I want to make to you is it is in our control.

RAY SUAREZ: If the president scratches out another win here, it will be thanks in part to people like Gloria Goodwood, a cancer survivor who champions health care reform.

GLORIA GOODWOOD, North Carolina delegate: What I do, every single weekend is, I go out, I register voters, I’m on the phone calling. I run a data bank.

And we are really trying to educate people about health care, about the problems with the military, about all of the health care, and not just ethnicity, about all people. We don’t just have a black president. We have a president of the United States that is a people president.

RAY SUAREZ: Not all of the people are happy. Occupy protesters, joined by a big coalition of other pressure groups, took to the streets of Charlotte, accompanied by a like number of police and reporters, to bring their complaints to the convention about the president’s lack of action on immigration, climate change, on bailing out the banks while millions lost their homes.

Since the president took office, William Albritton says he’s working harder for less money.

WILLIAM ALBRITTON, ‘Occupy’ protester: I’m working at a warehouse now, and I have a side job doing landscaping with a company, but I’m making — I’m working probably 60 hours a week, and I make right around — probably right around $300, $400 a week. Before, I was 40 hours a week and making about $400 a week.

RAY SUAREZ: Many of the protesters said there isn’t much difference between Democrats and Republicans. They’re skeptical of the president’s links to wealthy donors and Wall Street.

Katherine Fowler is still willing to give Barack Obama a chance.

KATHERINE FOWLER, ‘Occupy’ protester: We definitely have a message for the president. I support the president, but I also want him to listen to me, as we all do in this movement.

We are concerned that the middle class is shrinking, and the lower, the poor class is even more poor.

RAY SUAREZ: Labor Day grew out of the struggle to establish unions in this country. This morning, union members set aside football, barbecues, and auto racing to march.

In 2008, organized labor was a big part of President Obama’s winning coalition. Four years later, the party is getting ready to kick off its national convention in right-to-work North Carolina.

The Reverend Mary Loutensleger is a Methodist pastor and the wife of a former steelworker who had no union.

REV. MARY LOUTENSLEGER, Methodist pastor: We need our workers to have some kind of power, some kind of say-so, to have their rights affirmed, to be able to get medical, dental insurance when they need it.

RAY SUAREZ: Dressed in North Carolina blue, these United Auto Workers members wore their support for the president on their sleeve, you might say. The Freightliner truck builders credit Mr. Obama with saving their industry.

RICKY MCDOWELL, United Auto Workers: With the help of President Obama saving the Big Three, and if we had let Chrysler and Chevrolet and GM go down, there wouldn’t be a Big Three, wouldn’t be an international union. So he did save our jobs.

[Editor's note: Generally, the Big Three refer to Ford, Chrysler and GM.]

RAY SUAREZ: That’s the message the president took on the Labor Day campaign trail to Ohio, where he reminded autoworkers of Mitt Romney’s opposition to the GM and Chrysler bailouts.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: When auto industry was flatlining, what was in his and Gov. Romney’s playbook? Let Detroit go bankrupt. You would have been benched for good. That’s not a good plan.

More than one million Americans across the country would have lost their jobs in the middle of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. In communities across the Midwest, it would have been another Great Depressions.

RAY SUAREZ: Starting tomorrow, workers in Charlotte will hear from a long lineup of the president’s supporters, including first lady Michelle Obama, who made a cameo appearance on the convention floor tonight, and concluding when the president himself Thursday accepts the Democratic nomination for a second term.