SEATTLE – AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka was cheered by 3,000 union teachers and health care workers here July 10 with his scathing attack on Republican senators for blocking federal funds to extend unemployment compensation to millions of jobless workers. The $10 billion House-passed bill would also save the jobs of 300,000 schoolteachers. But it has been blocked repeatedly by 41 senators, a diehard minority consisting of all the Republicans, and so-called Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.) and Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska.
Speaking at the American Federation of Teachers 81st convention, Trumka warned that the economic recovery is “sputtering to a halt” and the nation may slip back into a double dip recession.
“We need a jobs bill with the scope, and as serious, as the crisis we face,” he said. “We absolutely must provide emergency aid to head off the layoff of 300,000 teachers and other public workers. We have to extend those unemployment benefits to unemployed workers in the worst economic crisis in years.”
Every time the nation begins to dig itself out of the recession with 10.5 million jobless workers, Trumka added, deficit hawks jump up and demand, “What about those deficits?”
He retorted, “We don’t have a short-term deficit problem in this country. We have a short-term jobs crisis that must be addressed immediately.”
He denounced Indiana’s Republican governor, Mitch Daniels, former budget director in the George W. Bush administration, for referring to union teachers as the “new privileged class.” The crowd erupted in boos as Trumka said right-wing demagogues are looking for “scapegoats” and portray public workers as “fat cats.”
“We can’t continue what our Education Secretary [Arne Duncan] calls the ‘Race to the Top’ when the economy is in a race to the bottom,” Trumka said.
He urged union teachers to “stand together, work together, march together, vote together” to defeat the right-wing attacks on public education and public employees in the November election.
Juan Andrade, president of the Hispanic Leadership Institute, a group that registered 2 million Latinos to vote in 2008, was also cheered just minutes earlier. “Very simply, Latinos are your brothers and sisters,” he told the AFT delegates. “Latinos are leading the way in civic participation. Voter registration in Latino communities is increasing six times faster than the general population.”
He thanked the AFT for speaking out strongly against Arizona’s immigrant-bashing SB 1070, passing a resolution that the AFT will not sponsor or attend conferences or meetings in the state until the law is repealed. “Below the surface,” he said, “are those who would criminalize undocumented workers, not only deport undocumented workers but revoke the citizenship of their children born in the U.S.”
Andrade blasted Republican attempts to militarize the U.S.-Mexican border. “All that can be said about that godforsaken wall that separates Mexico and the U.S. is that more people will die in the desert,” he said. He called on the U.S. to “tear down that wall,” end raids and mass deportations that “tear families apart” and enact fair, comprehensive immigration reform.
“We can make a difference,” he concluded. “We can empower our communities as we go into the 2010 midterm elections. We must make clear that unions are not the problem in our schools. On the contrary, unions are an integral part of the solution.”
Cries of “Si se puede!” rang out from the crowd.
AFT President Randi Weingarten introduced Joyce Elliott, an African American woman who won the Democratic nomination for Congress in Arkansas. “Joyce walks the walk. She talks the talk. She is one of us, a former high school teacher and a member of the AFT,” said Weingarten.
The crowd gave the young Black woman candidate a roaring, standing ovation.
Eliott told the crowd of her struggles as an Arkansas state senator for full funding of public education in the face of the deep economic recession in Arkansas. “My presence in that legislative body absolutely made a difference,” she said. “I refuse to reduce myself to a cesspool of cynicism. They say we must address the deficits. But you cannot cut yourself out of the deficit. The only way to reduce the deficit is to put people back to work.”
“I want your support. I need your support,” she told the delegates. “I want to make a contribution November 2 by being an AFT member who will be going to Congress.”
Photo: AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka addresses the AFT convention July 10 in Seattle. (PW/Tim Wheeler)