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United Steelworkers endorses John Edwards at Mellon Arena

“America wasn’t built on Wall Street. America was built by men and women who worked with their backs and their hands.”

That was the message presidential candidate and former senator John Edwards (D–N.C.) delivered to Pittsburgh as he accepted the endorsement of the United Steelworkers and the United Mine Workers of America last Monday at the Mellon Arena.

The son of a mill worker, Edwards has taken up the cause of the middle class. After losing the race for vice-president in 2004, Edwards dedicated himself to fighting poverty, globetrotting to places like India and China, and marching alongside workers in over 200 picket lines around the U.S. Last October, Edwards joined a United Steelworkers (USW) strike of a Goodyear plant, demonstrating solidarity with their cause.

“[Edwards] never once mentioned politics or his quest for the presidency,” USW President Leo Girard said of Edwards’s participation in the strike.

It was with the same populist spirit that he decided to make his entrance to the USW event from behind the crowd, as opposed to coming from backstage, the preference of many politicians.

Sporting jeans and a navy USW jacket, Edwards stood before a mass of current and retired steelworkers, all of them burly and some wearing the colored shirt of their local union. He drew on his campaign’s focal points of universal health care and labor rights for all Americans.

The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) also chose to endorse Edwards.

UMWA made their choice despite Edwards’ recent announcement that as president, he would not allow any new coal plants to be built without carbon capture technologies that reduce carbon emissions significantly. He pledged to put “at least a billion dollars into the development and implementation of carbon capture.”

The actual cost of the primary research and development tasks for carbon capture is projected to be between $8 to $10 billion, according to Howard Herzog, a researcher on MIT’s “The Future of Coal” study. In addition, experts such as Herzog, along with the Department of Energy (DOE), have determined that carbon capture plants won’t materialize for at least a decade, a long wait for mine workers and their families.

Edwards made the case against sending jobs overseas in his stump speech. The mention of Bush’s name led to a round of boos from the steelworkers, as Edwards vowed to prioritize the middle class and unions over corporations. “Nobody will be able to walk through that picket line and take your job away from you,” he said.

Many Carnegie Mellon students plan to work in the high-tech field, where jobs are less threatened. In contrast, increasing trade and globalization proves more of a threat for manufacturing unions. The AFL-CIO, the largest representative of unionized workers in the U.S., maintains the country has lost more than 2.5 million manufacturing jobs since 2001.

The USW, which claims a membership of 1.2 million, is mostly concentrated in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky, none of them early battleground states in the primary election. Still, the Edwards campaign maintains their value.

“A candidate’s strength in those states — their ability to mobilize — is going to be enormously important,” Edwards’s wife Elizabeth told The Tartan. “Electability is an issue every place.”
Most of Edwards’s resources are concentrated in Iowa, where he holds a five-point lead over Hillary Clinton, according to an Aug. 26 poll by Time magazine.