LAS VEGAS, Nev. – “This union speaks many languages. We are many different colors. We’re marching shoulder-to-shoulder because our weapon is solidarity. Take one of us on and you’ve taken on all of us,” declared President Bruce Raynor to over 2,000 Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE) members, delegates, staff, guests, and retirees gathered at Bally’s convention center here, July 21, at the union’s Second Constitutional Convention. UNITE’s diversity was apparent as a “March of Delegations” brought Asian, Latino, Black, Brown and white members from all over the country together.

The delegates drew on successes of the past four years, including the gain of 65,000 new members, to address the pressing issues of strengthening the labor movement and member mobilization. And they committed themselves to defeating George W. Bush in the 2004 elections.

Raynor’s opening touched on issues confronting working people – unemployment, corporate greed, NAFTA, health care, immigrants’ rights and the 2004 elections. “The Bush administration … [is] hell bent on making the rich richer,” he said, adding, “Bush is the most dangerous president we’ve had in our lifetime.”

Mario Arredondo, of the UNITE Chicago and Central States Joint Board, told the World, “Bush is rich. He doesn’t care what happens to working people. We’re going to get rid of him in 2004.” Arredondo said that the Bush administration’s attacks on overtime pay regulations are “just another tactic to give money to the rich.”

With the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride set to start in September, UNITE has placed special emphasis on organizing the unorganized, especially among immigrant workers who, according to Raynor, “are being exploited like there is no tomorrow.”

In a wide-ranging discussion, delegates addressed the union’s major campaign of organizing the 17,000 workers at Cintas, the nation’s largest uniform rental provider and industrial launderer, as well as the adoption of the “Campaign for the Future,” an aggressive, multi-pronged plan designed to ensure UNITE’s long-term growth and stability.

The campaign’s main objectives are improving wage and living standards for the union’s 250,000 members by organizing entire companies and sectors; doubling efforts to organize more members; and defending jobs by promoting union-made uniforms and government purchases from union shops. The plan also includes building the movement for justice by working with other unions, and community, student and religious organizations. The Campaign for the Future looks to add 100,000 new UNITE members by the

On the second day of the meeting, in near 100-degree weather, delegates set up a picket at Al Phillips Laundry, the largest dry cleaner chain in the city, where UNITE members have been on strike since July 8 over unfair labor practice charges. From the picket line, Isabel Guerrero, president of UNITE Local 66 in Lawrence, Mass., told the World, “We’re all in this together. We all need more benefits and better wages. These sisters and brothers just want what’s right.”

Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, also at the picket line, said, “As long as it takes, what ever it takes, Al Phillips, Cintas, we’re in this together. And we will win.”

Back at Bally’s, delegates attended workshops on international organizing, media relations, immigration rights, local union finance, retiree benefits, mobilizing volunteers, and winning respect and building power.

UNITE’s internationalism showed during a convention discussion of the effects of NAFTA on North American and Mexican workers. “Our government has entered into trade agreements that hurt … workers,” Raynor said, adding, “Mexican workers earn less today than they did before NAFTA was passed.” Worker and trade union guests from Columbia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, England, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Mexico, South Africa and Thailand also attended the five-day convention.

UNITE, whose members work in apparel, textile, industrial laundries, distribution and retail was formed in 1995 by the merger of two of the nation’s oldest unions, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) and the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (ACTWU).

The author can be reached at tonypec@pww.org

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