Union membership may be declining nationally, but organized labor's clout remains strong in the Iowa Democratic Party.
That was clear the past three days in Des Moines, when five Democratic presidential candidates, and one candidate spouse, wooed public service employees at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 61 convention.
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama was the featured speaker Saturday night, and he left no doubt that he was on their side.
"We are facing a Washington that has thrown open its doors to what I believe is the most anti-union, anti-worker forces that we've seen in generations," he said.
The senator reminded the AFSCME crowd that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968 in Memphis, where he had gone to support striking sanitation workers.
"What those workers made real in Memphis, and what we need to make real today, is the idea that, in this country, we value the labor of every single American worker, and we're willing to respect that labor, and reward it, with a few basic guarantees."
Those guarantees, he said, included livable wages, health care, secure retirement plans and safe working conditions.
"That's the America that you fought for," he said. "That's the America that I promise we will have again when I am president of the United States of America."
Obama said it was time that organized labor won some of the battles it has lost in recent years under the Bush administration.
"You fight for health care, but the drug and insurance industry fights back by spending $1 billion over the last 10 years to lobby Congress and block reform," he said. "It's time we won that fight."
Obama pledged to get a form of universal health care passed before the end of his first presidential term.
Other Democratic presidential candidates who addressed the group this week included New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards spoke to the AFSCME executive board, while his wife, Elizabeth, addressed the larger group.
Organized labor remains a potent asset for Democratic candidates. The Center for Responsive Politics reported that labor gave $53.6 million to Democratic candidates and party committees in 2004.