Conn. labor organizing for elections

The fight is on in Connecticut to win pro-worker representation in Washington and Hartford in November. Delegates to last week’s Connecticut AFL-CIO Political Convention left fired up to mobilize their members for a massive voter turnout in this high-stakes election.

Delegates rose in a standing ovation as President John Olsen angrily rejected the proclamation by George W. Bush that workers in the Homeland Security department may be denied union rights.

“Let me tell you Mr. Bush, you never worked a day in your life. When it came time on Sept. 11, the union firefighters did their job,” Olsen said. “The greatest insult is to say that there is something wrong with having a union card.”

Olsen strongly criticized Republican Governor John Rowland for not appearing before the convention, to which all candidates were invited.

Bill Curry, Democratic candidate for governor, brought delegates to their feet when he charged Rowland with “spending more time out of state raising money from special [corporate] interests than here in Connecticut dealing with the problems of working families.” Calling Rowland “of, by and for insiders,” he said, “It’s time to restore government to ownership of the workers.”

Recalling the involvement of the Governor’s chief of staff in an uninsured $220 million loan to Enron just before its collapse, Curry said such a sum “could have bought 50 rail cars for Amtrak.” He outlined a program of tax relief for working families, aid to cities and to the public education system and support for workers’ right to organize and strike for better wages and working conditions.

Sal Luciano, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 4, noted that since Rowland became governor child poverty has risen dramatically and the real wages of the state’s lowest-paid workers has dropped, while $2 billion was given back to corporations in tax breaks. “Society should be judged not by how it treats the greedy, but by how it treats the needy,” he said.

Of the top 20 contested Congressional races, two are here in Connecticut, as well as a key Governor’s race, according to Mike Noonan of the AFL-CIO political department. An intensive 80-day campaign was outlined to involve union members in voter registration, local union leaflets, mailings, phone banks and labor-to-labor walks.

The convention heard from candidates in the two key Congressional Districts. Incumbent Jim Maloney, locked in a tight campaign against incumbent Republican Nancy Johnson in the newly redistricted 5th Congressional District, highlighted his commitment to restoring and strengthening the right to organize. “Unions are about wages, hours and working conditions, but they are also about so much more. ... Unions make democracy strong and make the country strong and a better place to live,” he said. Maloney’s efforts in Congress to outlaw re-incorporation to off-shore tax havens recently helped the workers at New Britain-based Stanley Works stop the company from re-incorporating in Bermuda.

Joe Courtney, Democratic candidate in the 2nd Congressional District against incumbent Republican Rob Simmons, discussed how “The White House and Congress are anti-working families. ... Their agenda, put through on a partisan basis, puts corporate interests over working families. ... We can do better.”

To a standing ovation he pledged, “As a member of Congress, I will refuse to accept taxpayer financed healthcare until every American enjoys the same opportunity. ... It is unacceptable that there are 40 million with no health insurance in this country of great wealth and compassion.”

Simmons, a former CIA agent whose AFL-CIO rating is only 19 percent, told the delegates they should endorse him because he cast some votes in support of unions. To set the record straight, Sharon Palmer of the Connecticut Federation of Education and Professional Employees took the microphone. “I live in the 2nd District,” she said. “The Republican leadership gave Simmons a ‘pass’ to vote against Fast Track. After his no vote, they had two other Republicans voting for it to guarantee passage.” The legislation passed by a one-vote majority.

Delegates adopted resolutions addressing many issues including immigrant rights, election law reform, health care and public education. Taking into account the efforts of the Working Families Party to gain ballot status in Connecticut, the convention went on record in support of changing election laws so that petitioning parties can cross-endorse candidates from parties already on the ballot.

The author can be reached at joelle.fishman@pobox.com