HARTFORD, Conn. — “To restore our country, to make America great again, we need an inclusion revolution,” declared Ian Haney Lopez to a standing ovation at the Connecticut AFL-CIO 11th Biennial Political Convention. “We all do best when we work together.”
As he concluded his presentation of “Race and Economic Jeopardy for All: A Framing Paper for Defeating Dog Whistle Politics,” prepared for the national AFL-CIO in January, Haney Lopez called on the labor movement to play a leading role in exposing Donald Trump.
“As the labor movement you have the credibility to stand up to Trump and say this is divide and conquer racism. Strip the cover away,” he urged.
From gavel to gavel, the convention focused on how to organize union members to defeat Donald Trump in the presidential election and elect a more worker-friendly state legislature. The centerpiece was how racism is bad for everyone.
“Race is a weapon to build broad popular support for policies that help the very rich,” said Lopez. “Donald Trump’s campaign is based on race and gender, but it is primarily about money. He wants to cut the tax rate on the rich and corporations by over one-third.”
Delegates responded with long applause and appreciation when he spelled it out. “To communities of color: racism in the United States is a concrete political reality today. To white suburban communities: racism is a divide and conquer strategy to bust unions, pensions and jobs. Whites envision people of color as the enemy instead of corporations.”
“Race is central to the union struggle. Put race and economics together simultaneously not only to union members but to white working class voters,” he appealed.
The convention passed several resolutions to guide its work including “Full Support to the Labor 2016 Political Program,” and “Oppose the Politics of Racism and Hate.”
Calling “the ascendancy of a demagogic candidate and his message, with the angry constituency he is fueling, a threat to both the values of our movement and the health of our democracy,” the convention delegates unanimously committed, “especially in this election season, to confronting the politics of hate to make our nation and our communities better for all.”
A packed workshop on how to talk to members about Trump included a series of handouts headlined “Donald Trump: Dangerous. Divisive. Unfit to be President,” that feature workers telling their stories about his outsourcing and union-busting, an insult to working women, and “another rich businessman who doesn’t care about working people.”
A national AFL-CIO poll showed that 20 percent of union members overall and 33 percent of white union members were supporting Trump. But minds changed when they learned from fellow union members knocking on their doors that Trump is anti-union, that he is anti-worker, and that he said the minimum wage is too high.
“The Koch brothers are building massive field operation, Americans for Prosperity, with 77 staff already in Ohio and Florida, wearing t-shirts that look like union shirts,” warned Peggy Buchanan, campaign director for Labor 2016.
“But the Republicans don’t have the union advantage to build power for union families,” she said. “But it’s not an advantage if we don’t use it. If we stay home than money will trump all.”
William Spriggs, AFL-CIO economic director, detailed the global movement against working people, and how the use of dog whistle politics appealing to racial fears in elections has resulted in chronic poverty.
Saying that the bottom 60 percent controls less than 12 percent of the economy, he decried the prevailing reality of “one dollar, one vote,” instead of “one person, one vote.” The 60 percent get a very small say in how much should be invested in housing, transit, food and the needs of children.
“Reducing income inequality sustains long term growth,” and benefits everyone he said. “How in a country this rich can we sacrifice children to the job creators?”
Just prior to the convention, the State Legislature passed a budget that includes layoffs of state workers and cuts to vital services. Addressing the deep disappointment of the convention, CT AFL-CIO president Lori Pelletier issued a call “to elect more people like us, who understand what it’s like to pay bills, lose your home, have sickness in your family.”
“We have to take to power ourselves and decide what can be done where the decisions are made,” she said, urging the delegates to consider running themselves or asking members of their union. “We need continuous organizing,” she said “to make sure we all grow.’
The convention heard a video message from Joshua D. Sword, Secretary-Treasurer of the West Virginia AFL-CIO, who was prevented from attending due to the legislative session in his state, the 26th in the nation to become a “right to work” (for less) state.
“Don’t underestimate the effect of presidential politics on down ballot races,” he emphasized. In 2014 Democrats lost control of both houses, and the Koch brothers pushed their agenda through to end prevailing wage and pass right to work legislation, causing a drop in wages and an increase in poverty.
“The Koch brothers destroyed the middle class that our members and families fought for,” he said. “We are working harder than ever. Don’t let this happen to you.”
Calling for the union members to get active and stay active, Sal Luciano, Executive Vice President of the Connecticut AFL-CIO pointed out that “billionaires won’t take an election off and neither can we. We have a choice to change the dialogue and direction of this state and create prosperity for all, not just for hedge fund managers.”
Photo: Connecticut AFL-CIO President Lori Pelletier addresses the 11th Binneal Political Convention at the Hartford Hilton on June 9, 2016. | David Dal Zin, Connecticut AFL-CIO