By  on August 21, 2008

WASHINGTON — The AFL-CIO sent mailers to 50,000 union swing voters in Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania on Wednesday, attacking Sen. John McCain, the Republicans’ presumptive presidential nominee, on his pro-trade record and tying job losses in the hard-hit industrial states to “unfair trade” with China.

The mailers were the latest shot across the bow by organized labor, which intends to keep trade and its negative impact on communities in the spotlight as thousands of delegates head into the Democrats’ national convention next week in Denver.

Democrats will nominate Sen. Barack Obama (D., Ill.), who has been skeptical of trade on the campaign trail, as the challenger to McCain (R., Ariz.) in the race for the White House and the unions hope to capitalize on the two candidates’ different trade positions.

The AFL-CIO’s mailer, featuring a photo of a rank-and-file union member representing electrical workers, cites the loss of three million manufacturing jobs since President Bush took office and infers job losses will continue if McCain wins the election.

It questions McCain’s stance on free trade in light of the massive job losses in manufacturing as well as his support for China joining the World Trade Organization.

The labor group also highlights the $262 billion trade deficit the U.S. has with China, blaming job losses in America on the trade imbalance, and calls into question that nation’s workers’ rights record, noting a laborer in China makes 50 cents a day and works 15 hours a day, seven days a week.

McCain has called for more free trade deals, arguing they boost employment in the U.S. through exports and labeling Democrats as “protectionists.”

While his campaign did not return a telephone call Wednesday seeking comment on the AFL-CIO’s mailer, in a separate interview with WWD two weeks ago, a campaign spokesman acknowledged McCain is aware of the downside of trade.

“We have to recognize that while trade is beneficial broadly, there are localized dislocations as a result of trade,” the spokesman said. “Sen. McCain would provide extra help for people who are dislocated because of trade.”

But he stressed McCain will continue to pursue free trade policies because 20 to 25 percent of U.S. jobs are linked to trade.

Obama has called for a review and stronger enforcement of existing trade agreements and has indicated he would summon Canada and Mexico back to the negotiating table to add stronger labor and environmental protections in the North American Free Trade Agreement. He has also called for scrutiny of China’s undervalued currency and contaminated imports. Obama hasn’t ruled out negotiated similar accords, but he opposed pending trade deals with South Korea and Colombia, which are also vigorously opposed by the AFL-CIO and other labor groups.

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