At the AFL-CIO labor convention, teabaggers, birthers and other haters seem a world away. Firefighters, ironworkers, teachers and office professionals all took the floor making the case for a labor movement fully engaged on fighting for racial and gender diversity within the labor movement’s ranks and leadership.
And action is louder than words. In the last fourteen years, a quiet revolution has taken place in the labor movement. More women and more people of color are in leadership positions. In 1995, only 6 percent of top officers of state federations were women. Today it’s 21 percent. For people of color it has gone from 8 percent to 15 percent. The delegates at the 2009 convention are 43 percent women and people of color. There are translations going on for Spanish-speaking members and guests, and others who are guests in their languages.
Unions freely admit there is still a way to go, but it’s a good start.
It’s this kind of commitment to equality and equal opportunity and understanding that it “lifts all boats” that builds working-class power. As Mineworkers President Cecil Roberts told the convention in his W. Va. preacher style, “The labor movement is wide open for all, we celebrate diversity!” They see diversity and inclusion as strengthening worker rights for all.
The labor movement is also fighting for equal opportunity for lesbians, gays, bi-sexuals and transgender people and the actors unions initiated a program to increase representation in the media of people with disabilities.
Young workers are one of the populations least likely to be unionized and have some of the worst economic statistics compared to other age groups, and the AFL-CIO has initiated a new program to reach out and organize this new generation.
Some 3,000 union members and allies greeted President Barack Obama with a prolonged standing ovation — and rose to their feet at least four more times before he was done.
It was a far cry from the hate-inspired crowds claiming to represent America. Shown nightly on the news holding racist anti-Obama actions, these protesters may be working class but these actions only serve Big Insurance and other mighty economic interests. Some are bought and paid for, selling out their long-term interests for short-term gain.
The labor movement knows that. And that’s why you have union members, including big, beefy white guys, taking on these far-right protesters. For labor knows which side it’s on.