SAN FRANCISCO – A defiant William “Bill” Lucy, president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), blasted the policies of the Bush administration in his keynote speech to the more than 1,400 delegates attending the organization’s 32nd Convention, May 21-26. Lucy condemned the Iraq war as a “weapon of mass distraction – a distraction from the failed economic policies that devastated American families; a distraction from the fact that 2.4 million jobs have been lost in the last 29 months.”
To repeated and enthusiastic applause, Lucy also criticized Bush’s handling of the national debt; attacks on affirmative action; tax breaks for the rich; attacks on civil liberties; and efforts to stack the courts with right-wing, racist ideologues. Lucy condemned what he called the “unchecked immorality of Corporate America,” aided and abetted by the Bush administration.
But reflecting a deep frustration with those in the Democratic Party and even the labor movement who would take the African-American vote for granted in 2004, the convention strongly supported Lucy’s criticism of AFL-CIO funding of the Partnership for America’s Families. The organization was endorsed by the AFL-CIO at it’s Feb. executive council meeting. He called on the AFL-CIO to reject the assessment that CBTU and other constituency labor organizations are “ineffective and not accountable” and therefore should not be funded in their voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts. The convention gave unanimous support for a resolution urging the AFL-CIO to reconsider its relationship with the Partnership.
In his keynote speech to the convention’s Awards Dinner and Banquet, Jesse Jackson also spoke against taking the Black vote for granted. He noted that the civil rights movement had cemented a coalition with progressive labor and religious leaders to defeat Jim Crow in the 1960s.
Jackson said that Rainbow/PUSH will be calling a conference in early June to rebuild similar coalitions.
In welcoming the delegates to San Francisco, Mayor Willie Brown called for massive voter registration drives in public housing projects across the country to help defeat Bush and the Republican right wing. He said it had worked in San Francisco even though many claimed you couldn’t get poor people to vote. In fact, Brown said, turnout in the last mayoral election was higher in a number of housing projects than in some wealthier neighborhoods.
Comedian Dick Gregory, a long time civil rights activist, had the convention rolling with laughter in describing the absurdities of the Bush administration. He said that CBTU is dangerous to Bush because it dares to have influence on public policy. “King was killed because he was determining public policy,” he said. “That is what they fear most.”
Ron Gettelfinger, president of the United Auto Workers, also addressed the opening session. Gettelfinger, citing the crisis in healthcare as his opening theme, blasted the corporations and said, “Every time we go to the negotiating table they try to cost-shift the crisis onto the backs of the workers. Cost shifting won’t work.” He continued, “Health care can’t be solved at the bargaining table. It requires a national single payer solution.” In urging the defeat of Bush, Gettelfinger said, “Bush is not on the side of the rich, he’s on the side of the very rich.”
There was tremendous energy and enthusiasm in the five-day convention. The second day featured a National Women’s Conference, a tradition at these annual meetings. Women’s participation and leadership in CBTU has mushroomed since its founding. A variety of workshops focused on important issues: building the Immigrants Freedom Ride, the Urban Policy Crisis in America, and the Economic Impact of Civil and Human Rights. The conference also featured a Youth Conference.
Scott Marshall can be reached atand Jim Wilkerson at firstname.lastname@example.org