NEW HAVEN, Conn. — “Yes, they’re waging class war and it’s time we wage it back!” declared AFL-CIO Director of Organizing Stewart Acuff to prolonged applause, challenging the Bush administration and corporate interests at the Connecticut AFL-CIO convention here last week.
Calling the midterm elections in November a “referendum on human rights in America,” he urged the delegates to “elect a real pro-working families majority, then take to the streets.”
“Remember and practice the strength of solidarity. Unite with other organizations,” he said, adding, “Turn out on election day as if your kid’s future depends on it.”
The convention accepted the challenge to mobilize in three congressional districts where vulnerable Republicans have progressive Democratic opponents. Defeating Republicans Rob Simmons in the 2nd CD, Chris Shays in the 4th CD and Nancy Johnson in the 5th CD is top priority toward changing 15 seats in the House to win a Democratic majority.
In the nationally watched U.S. Senate race, the convention endorsed incumbent Joseph Lieberman for the Aug. 8 Democrat primary, following a heated debate in which several unions called for no endorsement. The Connecticut American Federation of Teachers, the second largest union in the state, and International Association of Machinists District 25, the largest industrial union, both endorsed challenger Ned Lamont, who is running on a peace platform.
Delegates who spoke in favor of endorsing Lieberman emphasized his 84 percent lifetime labor voting record. In response to several unions who are angry about Lieberman’s support for trade agreements and school vouchers as well as the war, some delegates called on the entire state federation to demand that the senator respond to the issues that every union faces.
“I hope that after this is over, we can get all of us together, even the ones that get along great with Joe, and beat the crap out of him, so he knows we’re not happy,” said Ken Delacruz, president of the Metal Trades Union at Electric Boat, who endorsed Lieberman because he supported their strikes at the boat yard.
In a compromise action, the convention voted endorsement only for the primary.
Lieberman later created a national firestorm within the Democratic Party when he announced that he will run as an independent on the “Connecticut for Lieberman” line in November if he does not win the Aug. 8 primary.
Among its many state election endorsements, the gathering gave the nod to John DeStefano for governor.
Seven resolutions related to health care were adopted by the convention, including three for universal health care, which is expected to be a top issue in the next session of the state Legislature. The convention endorsed HR 676, the “Expanded and Improved Medicare for All” bill, introduced by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.).
In addition, the convention updated its bylaws for the first time in a decade, and by acclamation deleted all anti-Communist clauses left over from the 1950s era of repression.
The fight for workers rights and for unity against the Bush administration anti-worker policies was the overriding theme of the convention.
Tying the rights of immigrant workers with democratic rights for all workers, Acuff explained that since NAFTA was enacted, real wages in Mexico have gone down 10 percent.
He moved the entire convention when he praised the values of an immigrant construction worker in Phoenix, Ariz., making $6.50 an hour with no benefits, who stood up for his family’s future and the future of his co-workers by organizing a union, only to be fired and deported back to Mexico.
“He wanted to lift everyone up collaboratively, not like corporate America, walking over somebody’s back, but by the way the scriptures say, collectively,” said Acuff, calling for the right to organize and to bargain collectively.
Nearly 2 million union members stand to lose their collective bargaining rights if the Bush-appointed National Labor Relations Board rules unfavorably this summer on three cases, known as the Kentucky River cases, which would reclassify workers who sometimes instruct their co-workers as “supervisors.”
The Connecticut AFL-CIO is joining with unions nationally this week to protest the refusal of the NLRB to hear any worker testimony in this case.
“The crowd that runs the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the White House are doing everything they can day after day to turn the clock back,” Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) told the delegates. Lauding the role of the labor movement in American history, he said, “Stand up and fight back.”