HARTFORD, Conn. — Lightening storms may have kept national AFL-CIO President John Sweeney’s plane from landing here in time for the Connecticut AFL-CIO convention June 23, but nothing could stop the delegates’ determination to prepare for their strongest mobilization ever in the 2008 elections.
“We’re at a turning point,” said state AFL-CIO President John Olsen, calling on everyone to go out and organize. “We got the House and Senate back in 2006 and now we have to get the presidency back so we can win the Employee Free Choice Act, universal health care and an energy policy like the Apollo plan.”
Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd was warmly welcomed by the delegates. Decrying the disparities in America, he lauded the labor movement for hard fought battles for workers’ gains “not given benevolently by corporate America,” and passionately called for an all-out push to elect Barack Obama on Nov. 4.
Saying he hopes the Employee Free Choice Act will be the first bill on the new president’s desk, Dodd emphasized that “this election will determine what kind of country, what kind of world, we leave to our children and grandchildren … We can’t afford four more years of Bush.”
The convention unanimously adopted a resolution reaffirming opposition to the war by national and state labor bodies, and asserting that Obama “shares labor’s opposition … while John McCain supports the war and President Bush’s military policy.”
The resolution urges unions to inform their members “of McCain’s pro-war position and how it is directly related to his anti-union economic policies; and how the continuation of the war is fueling the current economic crisis.”
Bill Shortell, representing the Machinists Union and the Bristol Labor Council, recalled asking, when the war began, “Is this an issue for us?” to which his buddy replied, “Who’s going to speak for me if the union doesn’t speak for me?” Shortell called on the delegates to “take a strong position and back candidates committed to get us out of Iraq and end this bloodshed as soon as possible.”
A heated debate took place over the endorsement of Jim Himes, a pro-labor, antiwar Democrat challenging incumbent Republican Chris Shays (4th Congressional District), a leading proponent of Bush’s Iraq war policies. Shays was the only representative from Connecticut to vote for additional funding of the war last month. He had angered the endorsement committee during an interview in which he objected to a question on the war, saying, “Why are you asking me about that? That’s not a labor issue.”
Delegates from the Building Trades said Shays helped get them contracts and work, and therefore asked that the endorsement for Himes be withheld.
AFSCME delegate Blair Bertaccini got a round of applause when he called on the convention to “support candidates who support us as a class, as workers, not just one particular sector. Otherwise we will keep losing numbers and become irrelevant.” Himes won the endorsement overwhelmingly.
The convention also committed to help Democratic Reps. Chris Murphy (5th CD) and Joe Courtney (2nd CD) return to Congress. They both defeated Republicans in 2006 and have been targeted by the Republican National Committee for smear attacks.
Speaking to delegates from the 3rd CD, which she represents, Rep. Rosa DeLauro thanked the labor movement for enabling her to win by large majorities. “With big margins I can take on the strong fights, which those with small margins many not feel free to do,” she said, referring to the vote against further funds for the war.
Delegates signed up for the Labor 2008 program, including speaking to members in their workplace and at home. Signatures were collected on postcards for the Employee Free Choice Act which will be presented to the new president in January.
A moment of silence honored prominent union leaders who recently died, including Merrilee Milstein, former District 1199 vice president and then deputy regional director of the AFL-CIO, known for her dedication and commitment to organizing and building diversity within the labor movement.
The convention adopted a strategic plan for the elections and legislative and organizing goals. A Diversity Dialogue will be held Sept. 20 with the aim of developing new union leaders. AFL-CIO representative Barbara Nicole Holtz urged delegates to attend, projecting the conference as a model for other states.