Illinois AFL-CIO sets election goals

OAK PARK, Ill. – Labor 2002, the AFL-CIO campaign to elect worker-friendly candidates in this year’s election, rolled into the western suburbs of Chicago on Sept. 6.

After a day and a half of deliberation, the 633 delegates attending the 35th Convention of the Illinois AFL-CIO agreed on steps to register 75 percent of the members of the state’s union households, to get an equal percentage to the polls on Nov. 5 and to persuade 70 percent of that number to vote for union-endorsed candidates.

“We have the potential to deliver 950,000 votes in a statewide race, Margaret Blackshere, federation president, told delegates. “If we can do that, we can guarantee that Illinois will have the first Democratic governor in nearly thirty years.”

In the Officers’ Report, Blackshere and her associate officers said the re-election of Democratic Senator Dick Durbin “is the top priority” of the federation. Durbin, first elected in 1996 and enjoying a 94 percent favorable COPE voting record, is opposed by Jim Durkin, a member of the state legislature who has accumulated only a 38 percent favorable voting record in his years in the Illinois General Assembly.

Democratic Rep. Rod Blagojevich, with a 94 percent COPE voting record, won a three-way primary race in March and opposes States Attorney Jim Ryan, who has been accused of helping to frame several African-American men now sitting on Illinois Death Row.

The convention saved most of its anger for Pate Philip, the hard-right GOP president of the Illinois Senate and poster boy for the labor movement’s determined campaign to elect a majority of labor-endorsed candidates to the legislature in November. Many see that as a distinct possibility, given that the Democrats now control the lower house by a 62-56 margin.

Illinois lost one congressional seat due to reapportionment. The borders of the state’s legislative districts were also redrawn, resulting in the creation of 13 open seats. Blackshere says the AFL-CIO will concentrate its efforts in 25-30 districts.

The Illinois State AFL-CIO, the nation’s third-largest state labor body, with an affiliated membership of nearly one million, is one of four state bodies headed by a woman.

Under Blackshere’s leadership, Illinois was the first state AFL-CIO to devote 30 percent of its revenues to organizing efforts and the first to launch a statewide Alliance of Retired Americans. With a union density of approximately 18 percent, Illinois ranks 10th overall in that category.

Delegates considered resolutions ranging from increasing per capita tax to pledging support to the embattled International Longshore and Warehouse Union now working under an expired contract and the threat of federal intervention in the event of a strike.

Other resolutions called for legislation dealing with corporate accountability, tightened laws by state and federal jurisdictions dealing with child labor abuses and support of the activities of Students Against Sweatshops, which the convention said had “exposed the dark side of free trade.”

Delegates also opposed privatization of Social Security and called for provision of a prescription drug program for all working families, especially for senior citizens. The resolution said the share of Medicare enrollees with prescription drug coverage fell from 78 to 67 percent between 2000 and 2001 and that 85 percent of rural beneficiaries had no access to a Medicare HMO.

The convention passed three resolutions dealing with immigrant workers and called for a new nationwide legalization program for undocumented immigrants.

Pointing to the fact that much of what is now the United States was “founded [on] the dreams and traditions, [on] the energy and labor of immigrants who traveled far and wide from many nations to what they fervently hoped would be a better world,” the convention agreed that the Illinois AFL-CIO would join the campaign aimed at winning congressional action “to establish a new legalization program to insure the rights of undocumented immigrants.”

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