LOS ANGELES – In a display of unity and fighting spirit, 600 union leaders from across the Golden State met at a special convention here Aug. 26 and voted unanimously to mobilize a huge vote Oct. 7 to defeat the recall of Democratic Gov. Gray Davis.
Davis fired up the crowd, receiving 16 standing ovations at the Manhattan Beach Marriott Hotel as he pledged to sign a driver’s license bill for immigrant workers and to protect labor rights. “I will not let them recall one benefit for working families,” Davis said.
Holding placards that read “Labor Says: STOP the recall,” scores of union members flanked Davis at a packed press conference held after the convention, chanting, “No recall! No recall!”
“I am proud that organized labor is standing with me and I am proud of standing with working people,” said Davis. “We will make history together [on Oct. 7] by my becoming the first governor to be elected three times.”
Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California AFL-CIO, agreed, telling reporters Davis is the “best governor for working people we’ve had in 100 years. Each day, we become more and more convinced that this recall is going to go down to defeat.”
Pulaski held up a black and white photo of the despised former GOP governor Pete Wilson fondly embracing Republican candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger which brought boos from unionists. “We see Schwarzenegger embracing the man we thought we had run out of town,” Pulaski said. The crowd chanted “No re-Pete!”
Pulaski unveiled the mobilization plan approved unanimously by the meeting, which includes targeted direct mailing to every union household, three million phone calls, and 700,000 one-on-one meetings with union members in a massive “get out the vote” drive. The AFL-CIO and its affiliates will spend $5 million in the effort, he said.
Pulaski said the delegates also overwhelmingly approved a call for a “yes” vote for Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante as an “insurance policy” to keep the Republicans from seizing control of the governorship.
Miguel Contreras, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, told the media that labor is confident that the recall can be defeated, but he said that many rank and file members, especially Latinos, asked for the back-up strategy of supporting Bustamante to increase voter turn-out. “We do what is best for our rank and file,” he said.
A just-released Los Angeles Times poll showed Bustamante surging to 35 percent compared to Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 22 percent. Latinos polled both against the recall of Davis and for Bustamante. The announcement that former governor Wilson is chairing the Schwarzenegger campaign is credited with that result.
United Farm Worker co-founder Dolores Huerta told the World, “I can’t remember attending a convention with this much excitement and enthusiasm. This campaign is going to bring everyone together. It will energize the base. Gray Davis is 100 percent right on women’s issues. When he took office, only 50,000 children were enrolled in the Healthy Families program. Now it is almost a million children, and 70 percent are Latino youngsters.” As people become more informed about the forces behind the recall, “they will see a pattern,” Huerta added. “This is a repeat of Florida. The right-wing Republicans can’t win in a fair election so they resort to all these dirty tricks. I think it is going to backfire on them.”
At the press conference, Davis charged that the ultra-right’s agenda in the recall is to “strip away” the gains labor has won in his five years in office, including prevailing wages, health care for poor children, and reduced class size in the public schools. “People have written me off at their peril. This is a very powerful alliance you are looking at,” he said, gesturing toward the multiracial crowd of men and women surrounding him.
The AFL-CIO constituency groups, representing African American, Latino, women and others, had special caucus meetings to mobilize their members into coalition efforts with community forces. President of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists William Lucy, who traveled from Washington, D.C., to attend the meeting, told the media that the attempt to recall Davis “becomes the spearhead of rollback of the progressive agenda. We cannot take this lightly.”
Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.), told the World, “We are all united against the recall. The recall was not meant to be used and manipulated in this way.” Solis denounced Ward Connerly’s anti-affirmative action Proposition 54, also on the Oct. 7 ballot, which would forbid collection of data based on race or ethnicity. She pointed out that data on racial background is essential to enforcement of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. “Prop. 54 could be used to disenfranchise us,” she said. “This is a sham that Connerly is perpetrating against us.”
Unanimous support for Davis by unionists was undeniable. When a reporter asked at the press conference, “What is labor’s message to voters this Labor Day?” the crowd roared, “No recall!” Pulaski grinned. “To quote George Bernard Shaw,” he said, “‘Let the masses speak!’”
Tim Wheeler can be reached at email@example.com, Evelina Alarcon at