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AFL-CIO Panel Urges Obama to Focus on Economic Issues

Liberal thinkers and activists appearing at a panel sponsored by the AFL-CIO agreed that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama (Ill.) needs to appeal to working-class voters, including an emphasis on issues such as trade, minimum wage, health care and taxes.

“The American economy isn’t working for the working people, and the good news is that the American voter and the American worker knows this,” said Richard Trumka, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO. Trumka said the short-term concerns about the economy — including a housing bust and an economic slowdown — must be urgently addressed.

“Before [Obama] can become a more transformative president, he has to become a more transformative candidate,” added Robert Kuttner, editor in chief of The American Prospect, a liberal magazine. “He has to make the sale to all the core groups — trade unions and their families, retired people, other Americans who are worried about losing their health insurance, Hispanics.”

Members of the panel, titled “All Boats Rising: Transforming the American Economy,” agreed that articulating these issues aggressively could be a deciding factor in the election. The white working-class demographic disproportionately favored Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) in the primary season, and there are indications that Obama has a ways to go in winning them back.

Vice presidential nominee Joseph Biden (Del.) may help in this regard, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said, due to his working class background.

Trumka said that the AFL-CIO will be sending out 250,000 volunteers to make phone calls and visits, educating people on the economy and “just what is at stake.”

Another panelist, Bennett College President Julianne Malveaux, pointed to education as another urgent issue for the Obama campaign to take up. She specifically cited student debt and financial aid, investment in the education of inner-city K-12 students and the decreasing percentage of those with college degrees.

The panel was a collaboration between the AFL-CIO and the American Prospect.

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