WATERLOO, Iowa – The 46th convention of the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, opened here Aug. 14 with a blistering attack on the policies of the Bush administration. It ended two days later with a plan of action aimed at electing worker-friendly candidates to Congress and the Iowa legislature, with a special emphasis on re-electing Sen. Tom Harkin.
Federation President Mark Smith told delegates they have the potential to accomplish that task. “But it won’t be easy,” he said, pointing to the fact that Iowa is a right-to-work (for less) state where barely 10 percent of eligible workers belong to unions.
Smith said it was fitting and proper that trade unionists had joined the nation in grieving for those killed in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. “But,” he asked, “why are we not grieving for the thousands of people who die on the job in industrial accidents? Why are we not grieving for the thousands of children in this country who die every year because they lack medical care?”
The answer is clear, Smith said: “To do so would call attention to a system of corporate domination in which profits come before the safety of workers. It would call attention to a political system in which the government can find hundreds of billions for the military but cannot find the money to provide health care, decent housing or decent jobs.”
Smith charged that “talk of endless war deflects our attention from the millions of victims of a global market system that is indifferent to human needs. Our most deadly enemies are not in caves or compounds abroad, but in the corporate board rooms and government offices where decisions are made that condemn millions to misery and death.” These victims, said Smith, are “the collateral damage of the lust for profit and power.”
The Iowa Federation of Labor will build its Labor 2002 campaign around the goal of “80-80-70”: register 80 percent of the state’s 130,000 union members; get 80 percent of those registered to the polls on Nov. 5; and conduct an educational campaign between now and then that will persuade 70 percent of union households to cast their ballots for union-endorsed candidates.
Steve Rosenthal, AFL-CIO national political director, joined Smith in calling for renewed effort. “You’ve worked hard and been somewhat successful; now you have to work even harder in order to be even more successful this year,” he said, reminding the convention that Harkin is high on the right-wing hit-list. In addition to Harkin, the convention endorsed Tom Vilsack for re-election as governor and Leonard Boswell, the incumbent Democrat representing Iowa’s Third Congressional District.
Harkin is the only Iowa Democrat ever elected to the U.S. Senate for three consecutive terms. He is the chief author of the Americans With Disabilities Act and of the farm bill passed by Congress and signed by President Bush.
Although he once supported NAFTA, he voted against the proposition when it cleared Congress this year.
During his congressional career Harkin opposed the Vietnam War, supported Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s return to power in Haiti and was one of the staunchest opponents of the Gulf War, even going so far as to take then-President George Bush to court in an effort to prevent him from using force without congressional approval. The Iowa Senate race is one of several in which the White House played a decisive role in selecting the GOP candidate.
Iowa lost 7 percent of its population in the 1970s and today has only five congressional districts, all but one of them held by Republicans. Its legislature is also dominated by Republicans, who hold a 56-44 majority in the lower house and a 29-21 majority in the State Senate.
Republicans held the governor’s office for 30 years until Vilsack won an upset victory in 1998. The last time Democrats held the governor’s office and controlled both houses of the legislature was in 1964.
“In 1900 we had 11 districts while California had seven,” Janice Laue, Federation executive vice-president, told the World. “Today we have five congressional districts and California has more than 50.” She noted that Iowa has a higher percentage of immigrants than any other state.
Election 2002 in Iowa is modeled after the AFL-CIO’s program of member-to-member contact: letters from union officers, leaflet distributions at work places and telephone calls.
The convention rounded out its Labor 2002 program by adopting several resolutions, including one dealing with corporate accountability.
In that resolution the convention said Congress should build on the recently approved Accounting Industry Reform Act by reversing the “decades-long campaign to deregulate corporate America” that put profits above the interests of workers and consumers. The resolution states, “Specifically, we demand authentic corporate responsibility that puts workers first when compensating victims of corporate abuse, holds CEOs accountable by regulating the kinds of compensation they can receive, and ends corporate corruption of politics by moving to public financing of election campaigns.”
Other convention speakers included Sen. Harkin, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. (See story page 13.)
In an effort to explain the workings of what he called the “nit-picking details” that “corporate outlaws” like Ken Lay use to rip off of millions of dollars, to the Iowa Federation of Labor convention, Mark Smith said:
“In traditional capitalism you have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull. Your herd multiplies, you sell them and retire on your income.
“In Enron capitalism, you have two cows. You sell all three of them to your publicly-listed company, using letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank. Then you execute a debt-equity swap so that you get all four cows back, with a tax exemption for five cows. The milk-rights of the six cows are transferred by an intermediary to a Cayman Island company that is secretly owned by the majority shareholder who sells all seven cows, back to your listed company. Its annual report says the company owns eight cows, with an option on another. You sell one cow to buy a president of the United States, leaving you with nine cows. You provide no balance sheet. The public buys your bull.”
The author can be reached at email@example.com