The man expected to become the AFL-CIO's next president said Monday that lawmakers will pay a price if they abandon a government-run option in any health care overhaul.
"We need to be a labor movement that stands by our friends, punishes its enemies and challenges those who, well, can't seem to decide which side they're on," said Richard Trumka, currently the AFL-CIO's secretary-treasurer.
The threats came less than a month after a protester outside an Aug. 6 health care forum meeting organized by Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-Mo., was sent to the hospital after a beating inflicted by goons wearing SEIU T-shirts.
That was the day the AFL-CIO announced plans to mobilize labor activists to attend town hall meetings in 50 congressional districts to counter conservative protesters, and the same week White House aides David Axelrod and Jim Messina traveled to the Capitol, advising senators to organize their events more carefully and to work with labor unions and other friendly groups to generate the appearance of widespread enthusiasm. "If you get hit, we will punch back twice as hard," Mr. Messina told senators, according to two people in the room.
The Service Employees International Union broke from the AFL-CIO five years ago.
In remarks Monday to the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, Mr. Trumka singled out lawmakers "who say they are all for health care reform, but refuse to stand up for a public system that puts people before profits."
Mr. Trumka and other labor leaders have expressed frustration with signs that Mr. Obama and other lawmakers are wavering in their support of a public option.
The warning is consistent with comments that Mr. Trumka has made in several recent public appearances, saying the nation's largest labor federation would do more to hold elected officials accountable if they fail to back labor's causes, including "card check," the union plan to increase their membership by allowing unions to sidestep secret ballot workplace elections.
Can organized labor really "capture the hearts and minds" of America by aligning itself with -- heck, identifying itself as -- the most radical and thuggish element of the socialist left?
For that matter, if one of the perks of union membership is that unions promise to negotiate good company-paid health benefits for their members, how does it help union members for Mr. Trumka to demand that his members' taxes be raised (along with everyone else's) to pay for the health care of the uninsured (many of them illegal aliens), who must then -- by definition -- be non-union members?
It's all a bit puzzling.