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Date: Mon, 29 Sep 97 15:48:58 CDT
From: TWHefner@aol.com (by way of Michael Eisenscher <TWHefner@aol.com>)
Subject: Inside the AFL-CIO Convention--Sept. 24, 1997
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Article: 18881

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Date: 97-09-26 04:07:19 EDT

Inside the AFL-CIO Convention--Sept. 24, 1997

By Mary Boyd and Dan Gursky, AFT
24 September 1997

Publisher's note: As an AFT member, I can't help but publish also a rebuttal to the tribute to Shanker that forms part of this story. Shanker's election effectively forced me out of the AFT ranks for many years. HB


Media coverage of President Clinton's address Wednesday focused on his disagreement with the AFL-CIO over free trade legislation. But what didn't come across in the newspapers and on the nightly news was the huge emphasis he placed on the importance of education in ensuring the nation's economic prosperity.

Essential to moving the country forward, said Clinton, is an investment in people, and this means investing in education and training. In pushing through the largest increase in education funding in 30 years, Clinton said, he has put more money into Head Start, technology for schools, programs to promote reading, child tax credits, Pell Grants and other programs. "We have to increase the quality of education in our schools," he said, noting that the country needs to build on its recent progress in raising student achievement. He asked the AFL-CIO for its support in gaining congressional approval for his planned voluntary national tests in fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math.

Clinton specifically singled out the AFT for its leadership on education issues, both under Al Shanker and Sandra Feldman, and said he would follow the union's example of promoting high standards for students. "I'm not going to back away from it if it takes me every last minute of the next three years," he vowed.


Delegates on Wednesday passed a resolution paying tribute to Albert Shanker, the AFL-CIO's senior vice president at the time of his death in February. The resolution calls Shanker "one of the giants of the labor movement of the twentieth century," a leader who "earned a place in history as a man whose courage, intellect and eloquence changed American society, American education and the American labor movement."

AFT president Sandra Feldman added her own words of tribute to her predecessor, praising his contributions not only to education but also to the entire labor movement. She also highlighted his important legacy as the long-time chair of the AFL-CIO's International Affairs Committee: "He traveled the world, helping freedom fighters behind the Iron Curtain--in Poland, Czechoslovakia and the former Soviet Union," she told the delegates."He went to Chile and South Africa and wherever else on the globe the cause of democracy needed support."


AFL-CIO delegates on Wednesday approved a six-cent per-capita increase, to be phased in over three years starting in January 1998. The per-capita tax will rise from the current 42 cents per member per month to 45 cents in 1998, 47 cents the following January and 48 cents in January 2000. The five-cent increase over the next two years will be used to establish a "member mobilization and education fund." The final one-cent increase will go to a building renovation fund for the AFL-CIO headquarters, which is currently undergoing a $20 million renovation.


National Education Association president Bob Chase arrived at the AFL-CIO convention on Wednesday and sat with the AFT contingent during the tribute to Al Shanker and President Clinton's address. The AFT later hosted a luncheon, attended by AFT vice presidents at the convention, for Chase and Evelyn Temple, NEA's assistant executive director for affiliate services.


Organized labor and the NAACP enjoy a long-standing special relationship: "two movements, one goal," NAACP president Kweisi Mfume told the AFL-CIO delegates Wednesday. And it's time for the two organizations to strengthen that relationship in the face of shared threats to the vitality of workers, families and communities. Instead of being able to devote themselves to fighting for good education, for example, "Teachers unions find themselves fighting against voucher plans in city after city," Mfume said.

He warned that the enemies of organized labor and economic equality are "myopic and focused," so "this is not the time to be comfortable. This is the time to be concentrated and focused in our efforts." Mfume added: "We have stood together, marched together, sat in together, struggled together and suffered together. Now it is time, ladies and gentlemen, that we start learning how to win together."


Pittsburgh really is the home of organized labor. This week, some of the city's historic labor landmarks received overdue recognition as new monuments were unveiled throughout the city. In fact, the Westin William Penn hotel--formerly Turner Hall--where AFT delegates are staying, was the site in 1881 of the founding convention of what later became the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Not only did Pittsburgh host the first AFL convention, but it was also the site of the founding convention of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in 1938. Historical markers were unveiled in honor of that convention and also to commemorate the landmark railroad strike of 1877. The monuments are a joint project of the Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission and the Pennsylvania Labor Historical Society.

"Inside the AFL-CIO Convention" is prepared daily by Mary Boyd and Dan Gursky from the AFT offices at the convention center in Pittsburgh. For more details, visit AFT online at www.aft.org.

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