ST. LOUIS – “The right-wing wants to keep America from succeeding; they want to keep the president from succeeding; they want to keep us from succeeding,” Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, told the 250 assembled delegates and guests here at the 25th Biennial Convention of the Missouri AFL-CIO.
Referring to the upcoming November elections, Trumka added, “They are out of power because they lost. We beat them, and we’ll beat them again.”
“This is our challenge,” he continued. “We can’t sit back. We have to fight. We have to build the political will to fight the irresponsible fear mongering and violent rhetoric of Sarah Palin and the Republicans.”
This year alone the Republican obstructionists in Congress have filibustered over 400 bills, more than any other Congress in U.S. history.
“Every attempt to solve America’s most urgent issues the Republicans have just said ‘No'”, Trumka added. He then urged union leaders and activists to “direct your frustration at those who deserve it, the Republicans.”
Over the past two years the Obama administration has:
• passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the largest economic stimulus in history;
• passed health care reform, providing health care to 30 million Americans and reigning the power of the health care industry;
• promoted workers’ rights through the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and the National Mediation Board (allowing airline and railway workers to join a union according to basic democratic principles);
• increased funding for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Mine Safety and Health Administration and the Wage and Hour Division (all defunded by the Bush administration), and expanded unemployment benefits to laid-off workers;
• passed Wall Street reform legislation, the most comprehensive reform of the financial system since the Great Depression;
• has appointed union leaders to key posts in the Department of Labor, the National Labor Relations Board and the National Mediation Board.
Trumka said the AFL-CIO has a “one-word plan” to get us out the current economic crisis: jobs.
“Jobs for everyone who wants to work, good jobs, green jobs, jobs to rebuild our country. We want to make a real investment in our country. We want to change the face of America.”
Currently the United States faces a $2.2 trillion infrastructure deficit.
Trumka then turned his attention to the Missouri Senate race between Robin Carnahan and Roy Blunt. He told union members, “We can either move forward with Robin Carnahan or we can move backwards with Roy Blunt; we can go back to the days when Wall Street set the agenda.”
He added, “No one can sit this one out. When we win it will strengthen us to fight on November 3rd and every day after.”
Blunt has taken more money from lobbyists than any other member of Congress; $1.6 million from Wall Street and $1.2 million from big oil.
According to Karen Ackerman, the AFL-CIO’s political director, “Blunt stands for corporate America.”
Ackerman continued, “The union vote will make the difference in this election. What you do matters.”
Currently there are over 430,000 union voters in Missouri – including active members, retirees, union households and Working America members – and the Missouri AFL-CIO is running the largest voter turn-out program in the state. Twenty-five percent of all Missouri voters are union voters.
Nationwide, the AFL-CIO will be running voter turn-out campaigns in 25 states, reaching 17.2 million union voters.
According to Ackerman, the AFL-CIO is running an “intense communications program.” They plan on “touching” every union member at-least 25 times between now and November – through worksite fliers, mail pieces, phone-banks, house visits and union meetings.
Senate candidate Robin Carnahan also addressed the union delegates. She said, “Blunt has been there 14 years already. How much longer does he need to stick it to us? How much longer are we going to keep footing the bill for what he’s done? I refuse to accept that we can’t do better.”
Additionally, Carnahan said, “Roy Blunt voted to give him-self a raise 12 times, while voting against increasing the minimum wage eight times. It offends me. It’s offensive. It’s bull!”
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, Representative Russ Carnahan, state Treasurer Clint Zwiefel, and many other elected officials also greeted the Convention.
Additionally, on the first day of the convention delegates protested out-side of the St. Louis Express Scripts headquarters. The Service Employees International Union has labeled Express Scripts ‘America’s Most Wanted Job Killer.’
According to SEIU, Express Scripts has made $550 million in profits so far this year. However it is trying to take advantage of the recession by trying to cut wages, health care benefits and retirement security for 950 union workers in Bensalem, Penn.
At the protest, St. Louis Central Labor Council Vice President John Ebeling said, “This is nothing but a case of corporate greed. While Express Scripts CEO George Paz is making $1.8 million, 313 times the average worker, they want to make more profits off the backs of union workers, the very workers who made the corporation profitable.”
A resolution calling for local union affiliates to mobilize their members for the up-coming One Nation March in Washington, D.C., on October 2 was also passed at the convention.
Photo: Robin Carnahan delivers a speech to the Missouri AFL-CIO at its 2008 convention. (Kelly Casey/AFL-CIO)