Watch CBSN Live

AFL-CIO President Discusses Election At American U.

This story was written by Justin Van Der Horn, The Eagle

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney stressed the need for progressive politicians in light of the current economic crisis during a Kennedy Political Union event Tuesday night.

Sweeney criticized President Bush's job development program as the worst since Herbert Hoover was president during the early years of the Great Depression. He said it was important for the next presidential administration to push a job development program that focuses on creating jobs for the infrastructure and green energy sectors.

"There is no doubt about it," Sweeney said. "Our country is in serious need of change right now. We need someone up for change, someone who is not willing to repeat history."

The current economic situation, much like the Great Depression, offers an opportunity for influential labor movements to develop and for the AFL-CIO to act at its full potential, Sweeney said.

Sweeney compared the Great Depression and policies under President Franklin D. Roosevelt to encourage a proactive government, as Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama encourages.

"Obama is a smart man but he also surrounds himself with outstanding advisors including some of the greatest economic minds," he said. "He knows and understands the problems facing the United States."

The AFL-CIO officially endorsed Obama for president when a majority of its member unions announced their support for him.

Sweeney said he trusts that the recent congressional bailout will ease market conditions but is unsatisfied by the level of help it gives to America's most threatened workers. He encouraged supplemental solutions such as expanding unemployment benefits, bolstering the food stamp program and initiating college loan programs at zero percent interest.

As the leader of an organization which represents over 50 different unions and more than 10.5 million workers, Sweeney also emphasized the power of collective individuals and consensus to impact politics, business and society.

Even with the bailout, there is more people can do in their everyday lives to combat the hard economic times, he said.

"We can do more by coming together than we can do by ourselves," Sweeney said.

Leah-Michelle Nebbia, a sophomore in the School of Communication and School of Public Affairs, said the current election is centered on a progressive movement for change.

"He was a community organizer who believed that individuals at the bottom of the system could have influence at the top," Nebbia said. "To see that these unions are pulling people together to create some energy behind the election and are getting their voices heard as a community is exciting."

Carrie Johnson, a senior in SPA, said she was fascinated by such an influential figure in the history of labor unions.

"[I was] excited to hear from a leader in the unionization movement who played such a strategic role in increasing union membership by reaching out to non-traditional union members," Johnson said.

As evidence to the importance of grassroots campaigning, Sweeney challenged university administration officials to give students a class holiday on Nov. 4, Election Day, so they could campaign in northern Virginia.

Sweeney connected his discussion to AU's shuttle bus driver union. He said the unionization highlighted a positive atmosphere for unons at the university.

Sweeney speculated that if the bus drivers had not been at AU, or had been in a more hostile industry, they may not have been as lucky as they were in being able to unionize.

View CBS News In