UAW hits the campaign trail. Will it matter?

Here’s one of those preach-to-the-choir moves that won’t amount to much. The United Auto Workers union plans to launch a multi-state ad campaign hitting television, radio and the Internet to “show why working families can’t afford John McCain.” It’s nice to see that the UAW is actually stepping outside Solidarity House to make a point about something. This is a pretty insular group we’re talking about.

But speaking to its own 1 million members (both retired and active) and other blue-collar workers in the industrial heartland—namely Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania—won’t move many swing voters. Granted, Ohio and Pennsylvania are swing states, but the UAW has almost no appeal outside the realm of card-carrying union members. The union’s membership decline among active workers shows how organized labor has lost clout. The UAW’s inability to organize workers outside of Big Three plants or their parts suppliers proves that the union has limited appeal, especially outside their usual audience. The UAW has struck out multiple times when trying to organize auto workers at Honda, Toyota and Nissan plants in the south. Right now, I’d say the UAW has more clout in this campaign than John Edwards, but that’s about it.

That said, one of the UAW video spots does make a powerful point. The ad has a union member talking about how her child suffers from asthma, so healthcare benefits are essential to her family. Then she makes the point that John McCain wants to tax medical coverage. The ad’s production is understated. But it draws attention to a McCain idea that most middle class Americans will likely hate. The only problem is that the UAW has so little clout that it may give swing voters a reason to tune out.