Date: Fri, 3 Oct 97 09:13:39 CDT
From: scott%rednet.org@WUVMD.Wustl.Edu (Peoples Weekly World)
Subject: AFL-CIO Convention charts path to future
Organization: Scott Marshall
**AFL-CIO Convention charts path to future**
AFL-CIO Convention charts path to future
By Fred Gaboury, People's Weekly World
4 October 1997
PITTSBURGH - An aura of measured confidence and quite
determination permeated the David Lawrence Convention
Center as the 21st Constitutional Convention of the AFL-CIO
opened on Sept. 22.
During three and a half days of discussion and action, the
870 delegates took a hard look at the direction of the
labor movement, reflected on the considerable progress made
since election of the leadership team of John J. Sweeney,
Richard L. Trumka and Linda Chavez-Thompson in 1995 and, at
the same time, charted a path toward the new millennium.
In the process, they adopted 11 policy resolutions;
resolved to field 2,000 labor candidates in 2000; voted
unanimously to remove the anti-communist clause from the
federation's constitution (see below); re-elected the
Sweeney team to a four-year term; raised per capita tax by
a nickel a month to finance voter education and
mobilization and, in general, trimmed the AFL-CIO ship for
the storms ahead.
"We put the train on the right track in 1995 and this time
we built bridges to the 21st Century," Charles Deppert,
president of the Indiana AFL-CIO, told the World.
Delegates were hard at work even before the convention
began. On Saturday, many attended the "Building a Movement
for American Workers," organizing conference that capped a
series of more than a dozen regional conferences held
Sweeney told the conference the AFL-CIO had set an example
in the campaign to make organizing the top priority of the
federation by earmarking 30 percent of its operating budget
On Monday, Sweeney set the tone for the convention with his
keynote speech: "We've returned to Pittsburgh to continue
our work of rebuilding and renewing our strength and to
refocus our goals in building a new movement for American
workers and creating a new voice for them in the workplace,
in their communities, in their government and in the global
economy," he told the nearly 900 delegates, alternates and
invited guests from 40 countries.
Following opening ceremonies, delegates began consideration
of "Building a Broad Movement of America's Workers," a
policy statement calling upon AFL-CIO affiliates to raise
$1 billion for organizing by the year 2000. The resolution
called the right for workers to form unions "the next great
civil rights issue of our time."
During the discussion Sweeney shared the stage with 60 rank
and file workers who spearheaded 2,000 successful
organizing drives in the last two years. One of them, Larry
Weiss, led the campaign to organize the faculty at the
University of Alaska. "The organizing spirit of the 'new'
AFL-CIO is exactly what the country needs right now," he
Weiss, president of the 750-member United Academics-
AAUP/AFT, told the World the decision of some 10,000
workers at US Airways to join the Communications Workers
"makes it clear that workers across America are ready to go
to the street to protect their living and working
For convention delegates, going to the streets also meant
going to the election wars. To that end they put the stamp
of approval on "2,000 in 2000" - a program aimed at having
2,000 labor candidates on 2,000 ballots in the year 2000.
They also agreed to assign 300 field organizers into the
1998 elections and cheered when told that more than 50 were
already in the field mobilizing to defeat "fast track."
Abby Demall Brown, a town council candidate in
Lawrenceville, New Jersey, is one of 17 labor candidates in
that state. "Several years ago we had 10 union folks in the
legislature," she said. "But even then there were far to
many lawyers, bankers and millionaires and not enough
workers. That has to change. Politics is about who makes
the rules," she told the World.
Although the labor movement doubled its contributions to
candidates between 1992 and 1996, corporations still out
spent the labor movement by a ratio of 17-to-1.
"We simply cannot double our contributions indefinitely,"
Steve Rosenthal, AFL-CIO political director, told
reporters. "And even if we could, we can never catch up."
In a strongly-worded resolution titled "Civil and Human
Rights," the convention said, "The AFL-CIO and its
affiliated unions are united in the belief that barriers
that separate workers on the basis of race, gender,
religion, nationality, sexual preference or physical
abilities are barriers that fundamentally weaken our
movement and strengthen our enemies."
Pointing to the role that immigrants have played in
"building the nation and its democratic ideals," the
resolution added: "The labor movement in particular has
been enriched by the contributions of immigrant workers ...
who continue to make indispensable contributions to the
strength and growth of our unions ... "
The resolution acknowledged the labor movement's
"responsibility to counter anti-immigrant bias where ever
it occurs'" and urged "compassionate and humane treatment
and due process of law for all people who enter or attempt
to enter, the United States illegally." The resolution
called upon political, civic and religious leaders to
"refute and speak out against those who seek to blame
immigrants for the country's economic and social problems."
Delegates also spoke out strongly in defense of affirmative
action: "Affirmative action has moved our society
measurably closer to the democratic goals of equal
opportunity. The gap remaining is too wide to justify
relaxing our efforts and abandoning methods of proven
effectiveness. If there are flaws in the execution of these
methods," the resolution says, "then by all means we should
correct them. But let us not use them as a pretext for
returning to the complacent and degrading policies of the
The Civil and Human Rights statement stressed the need for
the labor movement to build coalitions with community
organizations. "[In order] to bring all people into the
mainstream of American life, labor must participate fully
in effective and enduring coalitions with civil and human
rights groups, religious groups and community-based
organizations to pursue jointly corrections of the
inequities and injustices in society," the resolution said.
Delegates heard the requisite number of speakers,
including: President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore,
three U.S. Senators, House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt
and Labor Secretary Alexis Herman.
But it was not all work and no play: A block party on
Sunday with tables set for 4,000 guests, a river boat ride
and food provided by the Steelworkers union on Monday night
and a rock concert headlining Billy Bragg on Wednesday. The
convention ended with Rev. Jesse Jackson joining Sweeney in
a rally for a living wage and against privatization.
**AFL-CIO takes out old anti-communist clause**
James Cavanaugh applauded when delegates to the 21st
Constitutional Convention unanimously repealed language in
the federation's constitution barring members of the
Communist Party from full participation in the AFL-CIO or
its subordinate bodies.
Cavanaugh, president of the South Central Federation of
Labor in Madison, Wisconsin told the World his organization
had petitioned the AFL-CIO "for years" to remove the
constitutional bar. "Now they've done it," he said.
Walter Johnson, president of the San Francisco Central
Labor Council, is glad to see the anti-communist clause go.
"By getting rid of it," he said, "we are stepping away from
one of our human frailties - confirming pre-formed
conclusions and making judgments without knowing anything
about a person or their beliefs."
Warren Gould, president of the New Haven, Conn. Central
Labor Council, said the timing of the amendment "was
perfect. The AFL-CIO is opening its doors to everyone," he
said. "The time has come for all activists to come together
in a fight for the unemployed and all working people."
George Meyers, chair of the Labor Department of the
Communist Party USA, greeted the development. Pointing to
the fact that the change was proposed by the AFL-CIO
Executive Council, Meyers said, "This action is something
that is not only long overdue but should never have been in
the constitution in the first place."
Meyers, who retired as president of the Maryland-DC CIO
Council to enlist in the Army Air Force during World War
II, said the anti-communist hysteria that followed that war
was used as a smokescreen to pass the Taft-Hartley Act.
"And," he continued, "red baiting within the labor movement
virtually destroyed the coalition of left and center forces
that built the CIO."
Meyers said it is "fortunate" that the same kind of a
coalition "is beginning to emerge as the labor movement is
once again on the path of revitalization. This left-center
coalition is key to strengthening the labor movement and
building coalitions with its allies."
The convention approved several other constitutional
amendments, among them one increasing the term of office
for officers and members from two to four years. Under the
new provision, conventions will take place every two years
with officers elected at every other convention. Delegates
also adopted a new preamble to the constitution. In
recommending the new language, the executive council said
the preamble should express the AFL-CIO's "missions and
goals in the various spheres in which it is engaged:
organizing, politics, the economy and the community."
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