Conn. AFL-CIO convention: Members commit to “Move Forward Together”
DeMaurice Smith, Executive Director of NFL Players' Association, addresses Connecticut AFL-CIO convention. Lori Pelletier, AFL-CIO President, at right. | American Federation of Teachers - Connecticut

MASHANTUCKET, Conn.—Solidarity and organizing were at the top of the agenda at the Connecticut AFL-CIO convention last week. Turning anger into an action plan, the delegates geared up to “move forward together,” and reverse the assault on public sector unions and all workers.

“Like a diamond, we are indomitable and enduring,” said President Lori Pelletier of the union federation, which was founded 60 years ago. Bucking the national trend, “union density in Connecticut increased from 15 percent to 17.5 in the past two years,” she said, calling for the 200,000 union members in the state to “go house to house on the issues, and use our union power in the next legislative session.”

Connecticut has been a prime target for the Koch brothers and right-wing groups like the Yankee Institute who are pushing forcefully in the state legislature to limit the bargaining rights of state workers. As well, unions have been preparing for the possibility of a Supreme Court ruling that would prohibit automatic dues collection from members and create a “right-to-work” (for less) nation.

Delegates listened intently as MaryBe McMillan, president of the North Carolina AFL-CIO, told of the difficult conditions for unions in her “right-to-work” state, but also of the struggles being waged and victories being won by workers at Smithfield Packing and Duke University.

“Right-to-work can never mean right to surrender,” she said. “Our movement fundamentally cries of hope.” Calling for solidarity with southern organizing, she exclaimed, “If we want to get working people ahead anywhere, we have to organize the South.”

Welcoming the growing solidarity she sees between Black, brown, and white workers in North Carolina, McMillian said “we have to rise up and show working people it’s the union movement that’s on their side.”

Elaborating on the theme of solidarity, Fred Redmond, a national leader of United Steel Workers and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, addressed the question “where do we go from here?”

“The economic goals of labor are intertwined with our social goals. Our struggles are won by solidarity, a united front, marching hand in hand,” he reiterated, quoting Pope Francis that “there is no just society without unions” which lift up the unemployed and hungry.

Redmond traveled the country as chair of the AFL-CIO Labor Commission on Racial and Economic Justice, which held six meetings from July 2015 to March 2016. The Commission, on which Pelletier also served, was formed after Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson. “A union brother (on the police force) killed the son of a union mother,” said Redmond.

“We can’t let race be used to divide and defeat us,” he said, quoting Martin Luther King, Jr. that “where there is a labor baiter, there is a race hater.” He called on the delegates to support policing reform and the other recommendations in the Commission report, concluding, “United we rise. Divided we fail.”

DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, continued the theme of confronting racism to achieve unity. As he approached the podium, the convention welcomed him with a prolonged standing ovation in recognition of the courage of the players who have been under attack from Trump.

Having just visited 32 teams in ten weeks, Smith concluded that “the best conversations about race, class, inequality, and injustice are taking place in locker rooms. In their decision not to shut up, the players are exercising their right and operating because of duty.” He recounted that on Sunday the players had joined arms before the national anthem was ever announced, and yet they were booed. “This shows it’s not about the anthem,” he said.

Applauding the players’ courage in taking a stand, Smith asked, “If you can use players to sell shoes, why can’t you use players to inspire kids for liberty and justice for all?” As a union, he said, “our job is to teach and inspire. Our duty is to preach that we are all in this together.”

Delegates adopted 17 resolutions, including one to “Combat White Supremacist Terrorism,” which resolved to “partner with and support other groups, elected officials, and individuals standing against hate groups and white supremacy.”

Two resolutions addressing the immigration crisis were adopted, one in support of the Dreamers and DACA, and another in opposition to deportations and in support of comprehensive immigration reform.

The second resolution decries the “culture of fear that emboldens employers to exploit workers, regardless of status, and retaliate against any form of collective action at the worksite,” and resolves to “educate our members about the damaging impact of these deportations on the workplace.”

Liz Shuler, Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO, who was scheduled to address the convention in person, had been called to Puerto Rico as part of the emergency relief efforts including many teamsters, nurses, and other professional union members.  She spoke via video with a message to continue to organize, outreach and win a good budget in Connecticut.

Delegates and their affiliates participated in a convention collection for relief and rebuilding Puerto Rico.

A resolution to work to address climate change resolved to continue “taking a central role in local efforts to address climate change so that we make the planet a healthy place to live and create good paying jobs.”

Speaking on behalf of the Roundtable on Climate and Jobs, John Harrity, president of the State Council of Machinists, said “this is the most crucial issue facing all of us for the rest of our lives. Labor needs to be in the forefront.”

Other resolutions addressed pension security, upheld the right to organize, and rejected attacks on the Affordable Care Act while recommitting “to educate and mobilize in order to achieve health care for all through the creation of a universal, comprehensive single-payer system.”

During the three-day convention held at Pequot Towers, delegates attended lunchtime workshops and a breakfast celebrating organizing victories. A fundraiser for the United Labor Agency highlighted their programs to assist workers in need, provide backpacks to schoolchildren, and offer apprenticeship programs for women in the trades.

Tim Wheeler, former editor of People’s World, came to the convention as part of his book tour and signed copies of News from Rain Shadow Country.


CONTRIBUTOR

Joelle Fishman
Joelle Fishman

Joelle Fishman chairs the Connecticut Communist Party USA. She is a Commissioner on the City of New Haven Peace Commission, serves on the executive board of the Alliance of Retired Americans in Connecticut and is an active member of many economic rights and social justice organizations. She was a candidate for Congress from 1973 to 1982, maintaining minor-party ballot status for the Communist Party in Connecticut's Third Congressional District. As chair of the CPUSA Political Action Commission, she has played an active role in the broad labor and people's alliance that defeated the ultra-right in the 2008 elections and continues to mobilize for health care, worker rights and peace.

 

 

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