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Sender: owner-imap%webmap.missouri.edu@WUVMD.Wustl.Edu
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
Article: 19180

**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 during 1997.

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 for organizing.

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 said.

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 conditions."

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 past."

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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