April 24, 2008
How does Barack Obama spend a day off in his hometown? By urging hundreds of union activists to back his presidential bid in the final Democratic primaries.
That meant criticizing Republican presidential candidate John McCain, whom Obama accused of failing to offer "any meaningful change from the policies of George W. Bush."
"This is the most anti-labor administration in our memory," Obama told activists from the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which has endorsed him. "You and I share a vision for our country. We'll have a National Labor Relations Board that actually believes in unions."
Obama avoided mentioning his Democratic rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton, by name. While contending that "we can be a party that exploits the divisions that exist in our country for pure political gain," he said he wouldn't follow that path.
The Illinois senator and Chicago resident had been scheduled to take a day off from campaigning. Instead, he said he decided to stop by the labor meeting to thank the activists for their support but also to warn them that he needs their help in looming contests.
"I have to ask you to keep on working and keep on fighting and keep on organizing," he said. "If I've got working families behind me, we'll not just win this nomination, we'll win the general election and we're going to change this country forever."
The pitch focused on a group that has given Obama trouble in recent primary contests - lower-income working families that have favored Clinton and were likely to play an important role in primaries in Indiana and North Carolina in two weeks. He lost last Tuesday's Pennsylvania primary to Clinton by nearly 10 percentage points.
He told the union activists, "It's good to be among friends and home at the same time."
The UFCW represents 1.3 million workers across the country, including many in meatpacking plants that have been targeted for raids seeking illegal immigrants. Obama vowed to press for "comprehensive immigration reform" that he said has been sidetracked by political infighting.
"We know that enforcement is not enough, that we need to fix our immigration system," Obama said, and he called the existing policy "nothing but scattershot immigration raids at meatpacking plants around the country."
"This election is our chance to finally stop playing politics with an issue as important as immigration reform," he said.