Coalition of Black Trade Unionists: Mobilize the vote

Bush lies ‘coming and going,’ CBTU leader charges

ATLANTA – Energy and solidarity lit up the 33rd Annual Convention of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU). Meeting here over the Memorial Day weekend, CBTU set a clear course to mobilize for the November elections and to end the George Bush presidency.

A huge banner hung across the stage in the Hyatt Regency Convention Center’s main ballroom boldly proclaimed, “On the road to the ballot box: Building a coalition for victory. Vote!”

CBTU President Bill Lucy, in his keynote speech, called Bush’s economic policies the worst for working people since the Great Depression. He traced the history of Republican trickle-down economic policies, including the assault on social programs and labor during the Nixon, Reagan and Senior Bush years. Calling George W. Bush the “Commander in Thief,” Lucy said the younger Bush’s policies are the most disastrous of all. He cited current attacks on Social Security, overtime pay, health care and public education, and the Bush administration’s drive to help corporations outsource jobs to low-wage countries.

Reminding the crowd that Herbert Hoover’s solution to the Depression of the 1920s and ‘30s was to have unemployed workers sell apples on street corners, Lucy said, “Our people do not intend to live in poverty in the midst of unchallenged wealth.” He noted that it is always the working class that rebuilds society and the nation’s wealth after corporate greed has ruined things.

Lucy used strong words about Bush’s war in Iraq. He charged that the Bush administration lied “coming and going” to push us into this war. Further, he said, Bush has “dragged the good name of our country through the mud overseas,” with his “Wyatt Earp policies.” To thunderous applause, Lucy said people are tired of the hypocrisy of what he called a “color coded” foreign policy that attacks and discriminates against countries populated by people of color.

Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), also gave a fiery speech on the convention’s opening day. Roberts denounced the Bush administration’s economic policies as the “greatest shift of Roberts denounced the Bush administration’s economic policies as the “greatest shift of wealth from workers and the poor to the rich and the corporations in history that hasn’t resulted in a revolution.” Laughing, he said, “I’m not advocating that now, but I may not be far from it the way things are going.”

Roberts, too, deplored the war in Iraq, calling it an elective war by George Bush, “not one we had to fight.”

“But who are the 19- and 20-year-olds who are in harm’s way?” Roberts asked. “It is the poor, the Black and Hispanic, forced into the military by a bad economy and lack of opportunity.”

The five-day convention was packed with workshops, mini-conferences, cultural events and stirring speakers. As is CBTU’s usual practice, one whole day was set aside for a National CBTU Women’s Conference, followed by an evening “town hall meeting,” open to the public. The women’s conference featured a distinguished panel in an interactive exchange on mobilization, issues and strategies in the November 2004 elections.

One of the most interesting convention innovations came on Friday morning, in an activity organized with Voices for Working Families, an election committee concentrating on working with labor to get out the vote in African American, Latino, and Asian American communities and among women. Teaming up with Voices, over 90 CBTU delegates took a bus to a local African American neighborhood and registered 111 new voters in just a couple of hours. The experience electrified the convention with its success and the possibilities it demonstrated.

The convention made time on several days for workshops dealing with a range of critical issues including racism, health care, public education, Social Security and labor law, and several on the nuts and bolts of election work.

The convention also passed a series of progressive resolutions on a broad range of social, political and economic issues. These included full support for the Conyers single-payer, universal health care bill (HR 676), opposition to the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, and a call for an immediate end to the occupation of Iraq.

In a rousing speech near the end of the convention on Sunday morning, Rev. Jesse Jackson captured the militancy and determination of the delegates when he called on CBTU to help lead labor to victory.

To ringing cheers Jackson declared, “We must be a minority with a majority vision.” He pointed to the example of Martin Luther King as a leader with a majority vision that transformed the country and the world.

The authors can be reached at pww@pww.org.click here for Spanish text