Organizing, elections focus of Change to Win

CHICAGO — The Change to Win labor federation held its second annual national convention here Sept. 24-25, where it emphasized union organizing campaigns and a drive by its seven member unions to change the makeup of Congress and put a pro-worker person in the White House.

The unions that are part of Change to Win are the Carpenters, Laborers, Service Employees, Teamsters, United Farm Workers, United Food and Commercial Workers, and Unite Here.

The convention announced that the federation will pay major attention to 90,000 port workers, nationwide. The Teamsters are leading a drive to organize those workers, and Change to Win is providing both financial assistance and training for organizers from CTW’s Strategic Organizing Center.

New organizing drives in construction and transportation are also planned, but they have yet to start.

CTW Chair Anna Burger, who was re-elected to serve a two-year term, said 75 percent of the $18 million federation budget has been allocated for union organizing.

Leaders of the CTW unions had originally said, when they broke two years ago with the AFL-CIO, that the parent federation had put too much emphasis on electoral activity at the expense of union organizing.

The decision at the CTW convention to plunge into the political arena was significant, therefore, because it puts virtually all of labor into a drive to use the 2008 elections to shift the political balance of forces in the United States.

Since the split, both federations have been involved in — and have increasingly worked together on — not just electoral activity, but in the struggles to reform labor law, to keep manufacturing jobs in the U.S. and for universal health care.

“In some states, the AFL-CIO operation — the state federation or the central labor council — is the avenue through which we will do political work,” Burger said.

“If member locals want to work on their own, however, then they will,” she added.

For purposes of the election battles, the CTW delegates voted for a 10-cent per member surcharge, which can raise $14 million over the next two years. Burger said the money will be used “to insure the election of a pro-labor president in 2008 and pro-labor majorities in the Senate and the House in order to pass the Employee Free Choice Act.”

Among labor’s battles discussed on the floor of the convention was the recent struggle by grocery workers with the three California supermarket giants — Safeway, Kroger, and Albertson’s.

The UFCW, which represents the California workers involved, was able to roll back two-tier wage systems and health care cuts achieved by the chains in 2004.

As part of the CTW convention, an Immigration Town Hall was sponsored Sept. 24 by the UFCW. Workers and community activists gathered to criticize the federal government for immigration raids that they said hurt all working people.

Sonia Mendoza, a U.S. citizen, was arrested by federal agents at her Greeley, Texas, workplace, a Smith & Co. meatpacking plant. “Why did they have to herd us up like cattle in a cattle pen?” she asked at the meeting. “We couldn’t get out, we couldn’t drink water, we could not do anything.”

The Rev. Nelson Johnson, who chairs Interfaith Worker Justice, also spoke at the meeting.

“There is something deeply anti-human about the direction that our nation is moving in. The ideological foundation and justification for it might start with one particular group of people, but there are no fences around it,” he said. “It will wash all over us unless we stand together. The God I serve didn’t make any illegal immigrants.”

The UFCW had announced Sept. 12 a lawsuit against the federal government alleging that the constitutional rights of all workers are violated in the raids.

The union and eight workers named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit seek not only damages but also an order to stop the government from conducting what the UFCW says are illegal raids. The suit says that 12,000 members suffered false imprisonment and abuse during the raids, which occurred 11 months prior to the lawsuit.

jwojcik @pww.org