Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards spoke briefly this afternoon to hundreds of union members gathered for a rally on the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

Edwards promised to be a friend of the labor movement if he wins the White House. "If the union, in order to show its strength and courage has to go out on strike and walk the picket line, when I’m president of the United States when you’re walking that picket line nobody — nobody — will be able to walk through that picket line and take your job away from you," Edwards said, to cheers from the crowd.

Edwards credited the labor movement with building the country’s middle class, and he said it’s time for government to take steps to protect union workers. "We have such important work to do in this country to create opportunity and ‘One America’ so that everybody actually has a chance in this country — not just a few rich people, but every single working man and woman," Edwards said.

As he does at most every event, Edwards called for starting to withdraw American troops from Iraq. "We don’t need a surge in Baghdad," Edwards said. "We need a surge in New Orleans where our people are hurting."

Edwards today was endorsed by two unions representing steelworkers and mine workers. In 2004, Democrat Dick Gephardt had the support of a majority of organized labor, yet he finished poorly in the Iowa Caucuses and dropped out of the race.

Edwards told reporters unions are still very helpful to a candidate. "The success of unions’ ability to organize is dependent on how deep into the union the leadership went in deciding who to support," Edwards said. "I know that in the case of the carpenters, the steelworkers and the mine workers that they went to their membership to find out who the membership wanted to support and work for and that, I think, is different and I think what that means at least to those three unions is that they will be able to generate significant support and organizing, particularly in the early states."


AUDIO: Edwards Labor Day speech in DSM (mp3 runs 8 min)