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Date: Thu, 9 Nov 1995 19:50:21 CST
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From: Workers World Service <ww@nyxfer.blythe.org>
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 workplaces.

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 ovation.

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.


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 and grow.

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 shreds.


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 our enemy."

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 jobs.

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.


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 less funds.

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 Clinton's re-election.

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 granted if source is cited. For more information contact Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011; via e-mail: ww@wwpublish.com. For subscription info send message to: ww-info@wwpublish.com.)

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