[Documents menu] Documents menu
Date: Mon, 13 Nov 1995 18:20:28 GMT
Reply-To: People's Weekly World <scott@rednet.org>
Sender: Activists Mailing List <ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.missouri.edu>
From: People's Weekly World <scott@rednet.org>
Organization: PWW
Subject: AFL-CIO convention in perspective
To: Multiple recipients of list ACTIV-L <ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.missouri.edu>

AFL-CIO Convention in perspective

By Fred Gaboury, People's Weekly World
11 November 1995

The 21st Convention of the AFL-CIO was, by any measure, history-making.

In a four-day period in late October the demand for change that had been percolating in the ranks for years made itself felt with sufficient strength to set the 13 million-member federation on a path away from class collaboration. It elected a militant leadership to chart the path into the 21st Century. The outcome was, to quote Steelworkers Union President George Becker, "Corporate America's worst nightmare come true."

For the first time in its 100-year history, the AFL-CIO chose its officers in a contested election. And, for the first time ever, the AFL-CIO, headed by John J. Sweeney, Richard Trumka, and Linda Chavez-Thompson, is led by men and women with first-hand experience running strikes and organizing campaigns.

Victory for the New Voice for American Workers slate came after an intense, six-month campaign that saw candidates crisscrossing the country, engaging in debates, speaking at conventions and meetings of state and local central bodies, walking picket lines -- and, for the Sweeney slate, participating in direct action, civil disobedience and going to jail.

The victory -- won under the slogan "Say no to the status quo" -- was consummated at the convention when unions representing 7.2 million of the AFL-CIO's 13 million members won floor fights and thwarted plans to bring several hundred heavies into the convention hall in a "spontaneous" demonstration in support of Interim AFL-CIO President Thomas Donahue.

When the smoke cleared, delegates had elected a slate of officers committed to organizing the unorganized, building a "progressive political movement" and building a labor movement that speaks for all American workers.

The run up to the convention was as important as the convention itself. With its emphasis on diversity, inclusion, participation and, more importantly, activism, the Sweeney campaign changed what union members think the labor movement should be -- or can do.

As Ted Murphee, president of the Central Arizona Labor Council, told the convention, "The labor movement is limited only by the choices it makes for itself." The campaign did more than that -- it generated the interest that brought delegates from a record 500 state and local central labor bodies to the convention.

In addition to sparking some of the most militant discussion, the fact that 75 percent of these delegates were Sweeney supporters is a much better measure of the breadth of support for new policies and leadership than was Sweeney's margin of 55-to-45 percent in the official vote tally.

Nor was that the only indication of support for Sweeney's program. Even before convention delegates confirmed what was already known and elected Sweeney, leaders of his coalition took special steps to guarantee a unified labor movement after the convention.

Delegates unanimously endorsed a constitutional amendment increasing the size of the AFL-CIO Executive Council to 51 and then nominated and elected a unity slate to fill these vacancies -- in the process increasing the number of women and people of color from 17 to 27 percent.

So now what? What about Sweeney's boast, "We've changed the labor movement. Now we are going to change America!"

Although Sweeney had only one day as the convention's presiding officer, the new leadership found ways to match campaign promise with action -- to match words and deeds. In a taste of the new way of doing business, the convention hall was opened to guests and delegates alike as representatives from the Illinois Class War Zone, strikers from the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas and the Detroit newspapers led a demonstration inside the hall while delegates applauded and danced.

The convention's most dramatic moment came when Dan Lane, a locked out worker at the A.E. Staley plant in Decatur, Ill., spoke. Lane, who lost 50 pounds on a hunger strike which began Sept. 1, pleaded with the convention to step up the boycott campaign against Pepsi, the largest purchaser of corn sweeteners made by scabs at the Decatur plant. "If I can do without food for 60 days, people can go without Pepsi," he told cheering delegates (see related story, page 6).

Later, Sweeney led the convention to a solidarity rally in Manhattan's garment district. The evening before, delegates traveled in rented buses to join a picket line at the Box Tree restaurant, a posh Manhattan eatery where a work force of mostly Latino workers face a third winter on the picket line.

The prospect of labor moving toward a more militant, class-based policy, threw Corporate America into a panic.

The New York Times warned Sweeney that campaign speeches about "blocking bridges and getting arrested" were "oddly dated" and questioned whether these tactics would "win the respect" of corporations.

The Wall Street Journal said Sweeney's election means "strikes will no longer be local matters ... but will get a big dose of national labor support." The WSJ also shed tears over the forced resignation of Lane Kirkland as AFL-CIO president last August. "We always thought well of Lane Kirkland ... who did yeoman service against communism," they said.

And Newt Gingrich said the AFL-CIO convention expressed the "exactly opposite attitude" this country needs.

And they should be worried. The AFL-CIO convention drew a clear line between a Corporate America drunk with greed and power and a labor movement that is, in Sweeney's words, "all that stands between American workers and shrinking paychecks, disappearing jobs, vanishing health care, increasing inequality and more racism, rancor and resentment."

That is why, he said, "We are going to spend what ever it takes,work as hard as it takes and stick with it as long as it takes to help American workers win the right to speak for themselves in strong unions. That is what we mean by a New Voice for American workers."

Read the Peoples Weekly World
Sub info: pww@pww.org
235 W. 23rd St. NYC 10011
$20/yr - $1-2 mos trial sub

Tired of the same old system: Join the Communist Party, USA
Info: CPUSA@rednet.org; or (212) 989-4994; or http://www.hartford-hwp.com/cp-usa/

[World History Archives]     [Gateway to World History]     [Images from World History]     [Hartford Web Publishing]