NEW ORLEANS – At its mid-winter meeting in the “Big Easy,” the AFL-CIO Executive Council fleshed out its 2002 election agenda by adopting an “Agenda for America” and taking steps to finance what AFL-CIO President John Sweeney called the federation’s “biggest ever” mid-term election effort.

Sweeney said the Bush administration had made it “painfully clear” that working families are not one of its priorities. “We saw it in the aftermath of Sept. 11 when workers got lip service while the airline companies got bailouts. We saw it in the Fast Track vote when working people’s interests were traded for pork and political favors. Our responsibility is clear, our duty certain,” he said. “We cannot allow greed to grow or inequality to fester. We cannot allow the interests and the best connected and most privileged to dictate policies that have such profound effects on the rest of us.”

Sweeney said the labor movement must fight for an agenda that gives priority to the families of working men and women. Calling the 2002 election one “where the political stakes are great,” he said the AFL-CIO would mobilize working families “as never before” around a political agenda for jobs, economic security and corporate responsibility.

The Agenda for America calls for creating more good jobs by investing tax dollars in rebuilding and improving the lives of workers through education, job training and raising the minimum wage. It also calls for reforming the nation’s trade rules, re-industrializing the U.S. economy and redoubling efforts to secure worker protections in the global economy. The labor federation will also push to strengthen Social Security, to make high quality health care accessable to everyone and to hold corporations more accountable for their actions.

“Ours is an important and ambitious agenda, but we believe that working families expect – and deserve – no less,” the council said in a statement endorsing the Agenda.

Gerald McEntee, president of the 1.3 million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers, and chair of the AFL-CIO Political Action Committee, told reporters that while too many candidates in the past had approached mid-term elections on the basis of “what’s good for me,” this year’s “will be conducted on the basis of what’s good for working families.” In reference to a recent speech by President Bush in New Orleans hyping proposed legislation on the Free Trade Area of the Americas, McEntee added, “The winning candidates in 2002 will not win just by saying the word ‘jobs’ 34 times in a speech.”

McEntee said Labor 2002 will build on the successes registered in the last three elections, where union households increased their share of the total vote by 4.8 million and to 26 percent of the electorate in 2000. He said the next task was to fund the AFL-CIO’s political action work on a continuing basis instead of by special assessments and voluntary contributions from its affiliates. “Such an approach was necessary in order to drive our agenda even more aggressively. To that end,” he said, “the AFL-CIO will convene a meeting of its General Board on May 22 in New York City and ask them to vote on a plan to insure sufficient, reliable resources for our ongoing mobilization efforts.”

The board, made up of the presidents of the 66 unions affiliated to the federation, will be asked to approve a 4 cents per member tax increase that will be dedicated to grass roots membership mobilization. This will raise the monthly per member contribution of affiliates from the present 6.5 cents to 10.5 cents.

Steve Rosenthal, the federation’s political action director, told reporters the AFL-CIO will concentrate its efforts on 83 key gubernatorial, Senate and House races this year and in electing union members to office. Pointing to the fact that more than 2,500 union members were now holding elected offices from school boards to the U. S. House of Representatives, he said that 10 union members were running for Congress, including United Auto Workers member Chellie Pingree, who is running for the Senate from Maine.


Fred Gaboury
Fred Gaboury

Fred Gaboury was a member of the Editorial Board of the print edition of  People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo and wrote frequently on economic, labor and political issues. Gaboury died in 2004. Here is a small selection of Fred’s significant writings: Eight days in May Birmingham and the struggle for civil rights; Remembering the Rev. James Orange; Memphis 1968: We remember; June 19, 1953: The murder of the Rosenbergs; World Bank and International Monetary Fund strangle economies of Third World countries