Jacksonville, Fla. — 200 workers gathered May 17 at the IBEW local 177 union Hall to pick up signs supporting the Employee Free Choice Act, form ranks, and march to the Hyatt Regency Riverfront Hotel. The occasion was the Spring 2009 National Conference of the infamous union-busting outfit Committee for a Union-Free Environment, AKA: CUE, inc.
Russell Harper, an electrical worker and President of the North Florida Central Labor Council, explained that this Hotel was built by union construction workers, wired by union electricians and that the plumbing was installed by union plumbers. Many unions were represented from across north Florida and southern Georgia. Among them: IBEW, ILA, Boiler Makers, Carpenters, Plumbers, Teachers, IWW, Autoworkers, Machinists and others.
But this weekend the Hyatt was a den of thieves.
Inside, in air-conditioned comfort, CUE, inc – a weapon in the hands of the capitalist class in what is known hereabouts as the ‘ war on the workers’- analyzed, plotted and schemed. The employers have their own take on the idea of freedom: they cherish the idea of a ‘union-free environment’, but this is not the kind of ‘environmentalism’ most Floridians have in mind.
Outside, under the blazing Florida sun, organized labor assembled with allies in the movements for Peace and Justice, African-American and women’s rights. Florida State Representative Audrey Gibson came to show her support. Those who came to expose and protest had a different take on freedom than the employers and their lackeys: working people’s right to freedom of speech, freedom of association, the freedom to fight for a better life, and freedom to join a union – which is essential for defending our freedom from ‘domestic’ enemies.
Inside, union-busters discussed the present stage of the class struggle from their point of view. Randel Johnson, US Chamber of Commerce, spoke on “Unions Agenda: Legislative Update”, A panel of lawyers gave a presentation titled “It Isn’t Just the EFCA: Labor’s Change Agenda”. Kirk Cummings, of Central Transport, and Chris Rau, Harman International addressed the employers worst case scenario: “Staying Ahead! Two Approaches to Surviving the EFCA!” Also speaking were Tom Lavalle of General Electric, Drew Jackson of Lowe’s, and Katie Lev of CVS. While union members were not welcome at the conference, scabs and betrayers were featured speakers – and actors! Former union organizers advised the gathering, performing role plays to prepare the bosses for what they are likely to encounter when union organizing is in process.
Outside, as union members and supporters chanted “union-busting is disgusting!” some of the curious looked out the hotel windows, some with cameras. The workers’ spirit of Southern Hospitality was expressed in shouted invitations for conference attendees to “Come on out!”
The theme of the Committee for a Union-Free Environment conference was “Change is here! Are you ready?” From the union point of view, change is here – and we are ready to fight for more.