Conn. AFL-CIO stresses worker unity

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Defending immigrant rights, ending the war in Iraq, winning quality health care and organizing the unorganized topped the agenda of the 50th anniversary convention of the Connecticut AFL-CIO here last week.

The convention took a stand for immigrant rights through a special resolution, several speeches and a workshop with extended discussion so delegates could bring the message back to their members. The state federation also joined New Haven leaders in a press conference to tell Congress that “immigrant rights are human rights.”

Welcoming the convention to New Haven, Mayor John DeStefano urged the labor movement to organize immigrant workers “who want to work hard, play fair, and see their children do better.” New Haven has been under attack by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and anti-immigrant, white supremacist groups since offering a municipal ID to residents regardless of age or immigration status.

“As a movement, we are the only thing standing in between the multinationals and the people,” said Connecticut AFL-CIO President John Olsen. “We can’t let our nation become fascist where agents kick doors in and take people away. We have to talk so we won’t let them use hate to manipulate our fears.”

Addressing both the convention and the workshop, AFL-CIO representative Eddie Acosta told of his experiences bringing day laborers’ worker centers closer to unions to raise standards for all workers.

“The multinational corporations are driving trade policy and labor policy to maximize profits. They will search for labor anywhere in the world to make that money,” said Acosta. “These are the same forces that are driving immigration policy, and that want to cut taxes on the wealthy and privatize public services.”

Two Carpenters union members who are recent immigrants told of extreme employer abuse before they joined the union. “I had no overtime after 40 hours, and no benefits. With the union I have training, a pension and safety on the job,” one declared.

A member of Justice for Janitors SEIU 32BJ told how he was forced to leave his family in Colombia because of violence and economic hardship. After working in Hartford for 10 years he became a citizen, “and I vote,” he exclaimed to applause.

“Our union is diverse, Polish, African American, white and Latino,” the worker said. “Thanks to the union we have health care, economic stability and respect. We support immigration reform and universal health care so we all can have a better future for ourselves and for America. Immigrant doesn’t mean criminal.”

Following the workshop, participants joined a press conference hosted by the Connecticut Center for a New Economy (CCNE) to present a statement to Congress signed by 140 clergy, elected officials, labor and community leaders.

The statement, “Immigrant Rights are Human Rights,” calls for a moratorium on raids and outlines the principles upon which Congress should carry out comprehensive immigration reform.

The six principles, read by African American, Latino and white signers of the statement, include protecting family unity and the well-being and safety of all children, immigrant and U.S. citizen; protecting and expanding labor rights and working conditions of U.S. and immigrant workers; strengthening due process for immigrants; providing a way for undocumented immigrants contributing to society through labor and taxes to legalize their status and gain citizenship; creating a fair and responsive system of legal immigration; and revising international trade policies contributing to undocumented immigration.

“This is an historic day for the city of New Haven,” said Fatima Rojas of CCNE. Kica Matos, representing Mayor DeStefano, responded, “New Haven City Hall fully embraces this eloquent statement which recognizes the right to be free of fear and want.”

“The Connecticut AFL-CIO signs onto this statement,” said President John Olsen. “We commit ourselves to work with the New Haven community and every community for workers’ rights.”

In other business, the convention passed resolutions expressing solidarity with Big Three autoworkers calling on labor bodies to participate in the Oct. 27 regional demonstrations to end the Iraq war, and pledging to become active with the NAACP and others in support of the Jena Six.

joelle.fishman @pobox.com