Fundraising / Offer
Fiji Water & Vatukoula
New Culture Wars?
Factory Like a City
Bruce E. Levine
Until Jesus Comes
Zaps - 11-09
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Backstage at the AFL-CIO Convention
Any large national convention attracting over 1,000 delegates and 2,000 guests, like the 11.5 million-member AFL-CIO gathering in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on September 13-17, is likely to be well-scripted and choreographed with scheduled appearances by luminaries such as President Barack Obama adding enough adrenaline to keep people awake for the day's remaining plenary debates and workshops. But the not so central part of the agenda was just as notable and, sometimes, quite remarkable.
Opening of the 2009 AFL-CIO Convention in Pittsburgh, September 13, 2009
—photo by Jon Flanders
Even before the pounding of the gavel signaled the convention opening, you could detect enthusiasm on the faces of the delegates. They represented a modern-day makeover from what many have come to expect from the older and grayer traditional labor leadership. For the first time, an impressive 43 percent of delegates were women and people of color. They traveled from all 50 states sent by hundreds of local area Central Labor Councils and State Labor Federations.
This show of new blood was no accident. Since the passage of the much-acclaimed Resolution Two at the 2005 convention, the Federation had set lofty goals of equality regarding race, gender, age, and disability that aimed to go beyond empty sentiments.
Efforts to include women and minorities were largely shepherded years ago by Linda Chavez-Thompson, who became executive vice president in 1995 as the first woman, first of Latin heritage, and first person of color to be elected an officer of the national AFL-CIO.
Recognizing that more than 40 percent of union members in 2005 were women and nearly one-third people of color, Resolution Two reads: "America's union movement must stand as a model of inclusion.... In our hiring, organizing, representation, outreach and leadership...[Labor] must act decisively to ensure diversity at every level and to hold union organizations accountable to diversity standards. We must...move into full and committed action."
Outgoing President John Sweeney strongly emphasized these points in his farewell speech this September by declaring, "We are for inclusion, no one has to knock at our back door again." To further stress the seriousness of this point, the chair of the Credentials Committee, Cecil Roberts of the United Mineworkers of America (UMWA), instructed delegates of their rights to challenge any delegation not complying with Resolution Two. There were no challenges as all had complied.
Maggie Priebe, program director of the three million member AFL-CIO affiliate Working America, commented to me that the "diversity workshop was flooded with people, maybe 400-plus and overwhelmingly diverse. For me, it was the highlight of the week. I was so proud to know that the older movement 'got it.' We have to learn from our history, but we have to also listen to new ideas and bring us into the movement as well."
New AFL-CIO Secretary- Treasurer Liz Shuler—photo by Bill Burke/Page One
Encouraged by success, delegates renewed their commitment toward young people. Noting that workers under 34 years of age account for 25 percent of union membership, Resolution Seven states that, "We will recruit, train and include young workers in all activities and programs, and provide opportunities for access to leadership." The election of 39-year old Liz Shuler as both the first woman and youngest-ever Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO was heralded by her running mate, newly-elected President Richard Trumka, as just such an opportunity "to make the idea of joining a union relevant to workers whose views of organized labor are based on stereotypes from the 1960s."
Shuler, who will head up youth outreach, said, "They don't hate us, they don't like us; they just don't know us." It will be interesting to observe how aggressively local areas implement these programs, unquestionably one of the keys to rejuvenating labor at the base.
Convention Stage Front
There was, of course, the usual parade of prominent Democratic Party officials, most taking the time to describe someone in their family who actually worked a job and assuring us how they, as our representatives, work hard for us all. It's no secret that labor officials everywhere retain their decades-long reliance on the Democratic Party and particularly their great hopes for the Obama administration. As a result, politics remains defined almost exclusively by how labor can help Democrats get elected rather than by how labor can help working people get mobilized independently around issues affecting their daily lives.
Clearly, the Democratic Party remains the political voice of organized labor at a time when millions are unemployed, millions are losing their homes, and millions lack adequate medical care. However, as a result of labor's own inaction, one could argue that conservative right-wingers have taken the initiative. While the convention accomplished much, nothing challenged this disconnect.
Nonetheless, with thousands of delegates anxiously awaiting his arrival, Obama's speech was greeted by several wildly-enthusiastic standing ovations, the loudest coming when he declared that, "Labor is part of the solution" and again, speaking of health-care reform that, "One of the options...should be a public option."
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis had the stage the previous day, another crowd favorite because of her roots as the daughter of immigrant trade unionists. Solis also has a long public record of supporting labor struggles in Los Angeles, which she represented in Congress. To great applause, Solis announced she was hiring over 600 more workplace inspectors, which would bring them back to 2001 levels before Bush administration cuts. She cited examples of employers not paying workers accurately and flagrantly cutting back on safety standards.
There was also an emotional tribute, complete with video, delivered by Caroline Kennedy on behalf of her uncle, the late Senator Ted Kennedy. Senator Arlen Specter received a polite, but less enthusiastic response because most everyone was aware that his propensity to change parties mirrors his vacillation around the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), labor's number one legislative goal.
Over 1,500,000 union members have sent messages to Congress supporting EFCA, which would greatly reduce employer interference with the free choice to select a union. At the convention, three international unions pledged over one million dollars to continue the fight despite many press reports suggesting EFCA is dead. As a result, Specter's remarks fell flat when he sought to reassure skeptical delegates of the various "watered-down" compromises being considered in Congress.
Another major highlight of the convention was the much-anticipated and undisputed election of former UMWA strike leader Trumka as president, electrical workers union (IBEW) member Shuler as secretary-treasurer, and city, county, and state workers' union (AFSCME) member Arlen Holt Baker as executive vice president. No surprises here, but that does not mean it was insignificant. The central leadership set a vivid example of diversity with a younger woman and a Black woman holding two of the three top spots. Both made history by their respective elections.
But it was the unrehearsed portions of the agenda that produced some of the most energetic and exciting floor debates. Issues of immigration, health care, the war in Iraq, and urgent pleas to unify the now-fractured labor movement all elicited impassioned comments visible from giant video screens mounted on both sides of the auditorium.
Those who continue to urge the labor movement to come out strongly on many of the hot-button issues of our day should be greatly encouraged by the debates on the floor—or, more to the point, by the localized discussions that preceded the convention.
Several resolutions were discussed and approved by the delegates. Outgoing President John Sweeney set the tone by declaring that the AFL-CIO views "Healthcare as a right, not a privilege." But there was some concern that Resolution 4—issued several months ago by the Executive Council—was too vague in limiting itself to supporting "legislation with a strong, effective, comprehensive plan for guaranteeing quality, affordable health care for all." The same resolution also pledged support to "the president and congressional leaders in putting forward" this type of open-ended legislation.
As a supplement to Resolution 4, Resolution 34 was offered by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), California Nurses Association (CNA), Alameda County Labor Council, and the National Nurses Organizing Committee. It specifically called for expanding government health care for all as spelled out definitively in pending HR 676 Congressional legislation.
Throwing his support behind both resolutions, Greg Junemann, president of the International Federation of Technical and Professional Engineers (IFPTE), said to resounding cheers that, "We are not satisfied with affordable insurance, we want necessary health care."
Rose Ann DeMoro from CNA predicted that if we had government health care, "maybe we would be in the top ten in the world instead of at number 37 like we are today." This was immediately followed by AFSCME delegate Sal Luciano who probably gave the most impassioned speech and elicited the most applause when he ended by declaring, "We don't have a health care system, we have a health care industry."
The whole discussion was given an extra boost the previous day when Michael Moore agreed, with only a few days notice, to hold the U.S. premiere of his new film Capitalism: A Love Story, a few blocks from the convention center, rather than in Hollywood, saying, "I would rather be right here with working people and standing up for health care now."
Moore was hosted by the CNA, IFPTE, and the United Steelworkers (USWA). Over 1,000 marched to the theater chanting "Health Care is a Right" and "Single-Payer Now."
One of many memorable film scenes exposing the greed of the capitalist system featured pioneering scientist Dr. Jonas Salk staring incredulously at an interviewer who asked why "Dr. Salk, did you not ever patent the polio vaccine?" In other words, why are you not trying to make a buck off illnesses like everyone else? To his everlasting honor, Dr. Salk responded with a far more compelling question, "Would you patent the sun?"
Voices of dissent were clearly evident when resolutions for single-payer were submitted by 67 Central Labor Councils, 7 State Federations, and 5 International Unions. This is the most on one issue in the history of the AFL-CIO. The unanimous approval of Resolution 4 and 34 will further strengthen efforts to educate and organize.
Several other important resolutions were approved. One called for an end to targeting immigrants. It proposed an alternative, humane immigration policy that would open a path toward legalization and citizenship for undocumented workers. The resolution described how unfair imbalances in world trade and exploitation of labor results in forced migrations of millions of workers.
President Baldemar Velasquez of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) offered solidarity as the alternative to the racism currently directed at immigrant labor. To sustained applause, Velasquez reminded delegates of how the militant founders of our trade union movement related to immigrants coming to America for their salvation: "Our Founders didn't ask 'What country you are from?' They only asked, 'What side are you on?'"
Another important resolution passed on the last day called for "ceasing all repression of Iraqi unions, union leaders and activists." A related antiwar resolution reaffirmed the Federation's "opposition to the continuing military occupation of Iraq."
Also on the last day, in one grand finale, President John Wilhelm of the UNITE-HERE union rejoined the Federation, leaving the 2005 split-off Change to Win coalition in shattered disarray. As he was handed a charter by President Trumka, Wilhelm said, "Our 265,000 members belong back in the House of Labor."
Though nothing in the convention was ever expected to alter the basic, fundamental and troublesome political reliance on the Democratic Party, many of the actions of the delegates provided grass-roots labor activists and their allies an opportunity to continue organizing independently on the job and in their communities around important social issues of our day. Herein lies, in my opinion, the essence of those four days in Pittsburgh.
Carl Finamore is former president (retired), Air Transport Employees, Local Lodge 1781, IAMAW.
Carl Finamore is former president (retired), Air Transport Employees, Local Lodge 1781, IAMAW.
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AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; email@example.com; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; firstname.lastname@example.org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: email@example.com; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; email@example.com.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; email@example.com; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: email@example.com; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.