Date: Thu, 9 Nov 1995 19:50:21 CST
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From: Workers World Service <email@example.com>
Subject: A Turning Point for the Labor Movement
To: Multiple recipients of list ACTIV-L <ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.missouri.edu>
Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the Nov. 9, 1995
issue of Workers World newspaper
A Turning Point for the Labor Movement
By Milt Neidenberg, Workers World
9 November 1995
History will record that the 21st AFL-CIO Convention was a
turning point--the beginning of a movement of unorganized,
poorly paid workers of many nationalities, many of them
women, in sweatshops, offices and service-oriented
John Sweeney, Richard Trumka, and Linda Chavez-Thompson--a
Mexican-American woman who came up from the ranks--will lead
the 13-million-member federation for the next two years.
Their election has brought an infusion of optimism, hope and
energy not seen since the birth of the Congress of
Industrial Organizations over 60 years ago.
United Mine Workers Vice President Cecil Roberts captured
this historic connection when he nominated Chavez-Thompson
for International Executive Vice President, a newly created
position. "This moment is like the moment in 1935 when UMW
President John L. Lewis founded the CIO. ... Heed the call,"
he said to the 1,100 delegates, who gave him a standing
With UMW President Trumka now Secretary-Treasurer of the
AFL-CIO, Roberts will probably take over Trumka's job at the
next UMW convention. Roberts was the architect of the bold
and creative initiative in which 100 striking mine workers
seized Pittston company property in 1989 and held it for
four days. Thousands of cheering supporters defended the
site against the state police and company goons. The strike
was settled favorably.
ECHOES OF THE THIRTIES
Today's workforce is similar in many ways to the
unskilled, underpaid, industrial workers--mainly immigrants-
-who stormed the heavens in the 1930s to build the union
movement. They broke the iron power of anti-union, anti-
immigrant lords of industry like Henry Ford, who swore that
only over his dead body would he recognize a union. He and
the others lived to recognize unions and see them prosper
It took a series of general strikes in several cities,
plant takeovers and creative street tactics to build a
mighty industrial union, the CIO, which withstood the brutal
assaults of the owners, the government and the courts. The
CIO joined with the progressive movement to win the social
and economic legislation that is today being ripped to
`WALL STREET IS THE ENEMY'
What is happening today in the working class movement is
the culmination of a number of profound and revolutionary
changes in the capitalist mode of production, particularly
the orgy of mega-mergers among banking and corporate giants.
Owen A. Marron, executive secretary-treasurer of the
Alameda County Central Labor Council, said it in simple
terms when he called for the AFL-CIO convention to march on
Wall Street "to show these guys we mean business. They are
The delegates responded with an ovation.
These mega-mergers have intensified the precipitous
decline in workers' standard of living, especially among
oppressed nationalities and poor whites--and have led to a
dramatic loss in union membership along with the good-paying
But all this has also led to something new and
revolutionary: low-paid service workers, people of color,
women and the young are now in a strategic position in the
workforce. The AFL-CIO convention reflected this dramatic
development. President Sweeney and the other leaders made a
commitment to put 1,500 organizers in the field over the
next 18 months, and to eventually devote $20 million out of
a $60-million budget to this task. The convention also voted
to expand the Executive Council to include more women and
people of color.
The movement of poor and oppressed workers demanding
economic and social justice is on a collision course with
the relentless, brutal policies of corporate America and its
allies in Washington to downsize and marginalize the
workers. The underemployed, the underpaid and the
disrespected are willing and able to fight for union
affiliation to improve the quality of their lives.
THE 1996 ELECTIONS
President Sweeney and the other leaders must be realistic
about what is going on in Washington as both parties prepare
for the 1996 elections. There is a family quarrel taking
place among Republicans and Democrats over how much to cut,
how much pain can be borne by the workers and the oppressed
people. Both parties are relentless in their opposition to
the surge of union consciousness that will drive upward the
living standards of all workers--the very workers the AFL-
CIO is determined to organize.
President Bill Clinton's speech to the AFL-CIO convention
and his record in office should be carefully analyzed. The
AFL-CIO should not encourage the 13 million members and
prospective members to get aboard his campaign. His
positions on the North American Free Trade Agreement, the
General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, anti-scab
legislation, and a host of other issues have serious
consequences for both people of color and white workers.
Clinton has agreed with the Republican majority, led by
Newt Gingrich and Contract on America forces, to balance the
budget in seven years over the backs of the very workers the
AFL-CIO has committed its resources to organize.
Clinton spoke at the convention about how well the economy
is doing. He said not a word about obscene profits or the
shift of wealth to the top 1 percent in this country. He
promised the delegates he would veto the budget if it
contains drastic cuts in entitlement programs. Yet he has
already agreed to cuts in welfare, Medicare and Medicaid,
and Aid to Dependent Children.
He has agreed on waivers to the states that give them more
power to make deeper cuts, since they will be budgeting with
Yes, Clinton is a master of smoke and mirrors in dealing
with the labor movement.
The cheers from the AFL-CIO delegates--mainly white, male
and employed--for another four years for Clinton are a sign
of danger. The workers are enthusiastic about an all-out
effort to organize the unorganized.
Workers and union organizers will have to be single-minded
and iron-willed to join and build unions. A rigorous defense
must be maintained against further corporate downsizing that
threatens 13 million organized workers. They should not be
diverted from this difficult task by a mobilization for
They must not be beholden to either major political party,
but only to their own class interests. Labor has allies in
the oppressed communities and even among sections of the
middle class who are angry and insecure. It should not be
forgotten that less than 39 percent of the electorate voted
in the 1994 election.
We live in a class society and the AFL-CIO needs to
fashion strategies based on class struggle. Organized labor
must have a program of struggle that builds class
solidarity, taking care to include a fight against the rise
in racism and national oppression.
Union membership has already shown growth in the past
year. New and creative tactics will emerge as the AFL-CIO
reaches into the multinational workforce.
(Copyright Workers World Service: Permission to reprint
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