HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – In their first meeting since the 2002 elections gave Republicans control of both Houses of Congress, members of the AFL-CIO Executive Council announced a two-year campaign to “put political power back in the hands of working people” by defeating George W. Bush in the 2004 elections.

“The giant corporations have captured the hearts and minds of the White House and leaders of Congress,” John Sweeney, AFL-CIO president, told reporters. “So we must redouble our efforts to engage the hearts and minds of America’s workers and voters and put them into action.”

Sweeney said the federation would develop a three-point strategy in pursuit of that goal: political mobilization, a legislative fight back and beefed up organizing. He said that while building on past success, the campaign would search for ways of directly engaging the millions of people who do not enjoy the benefits of union representation.

In a resolution endorsing the campaign, the council said, “We need to embrace real opportunities to involve these workers who share common concerns, interests and needs. The labor movement intends through both proven means and new initiatives, to restore government that reflects the aspirations of working people and respects their contributions. We commence this effort now with all our vigor, might and creativity.”

The resolution called for establishing the “Partnership for America’s Families” that would conduct an intensive campaign to mobilize large numbers of non-union voters against the policies of the Bush administration. “The partnership will apply the lessons we have learned in activating union households,” the resolution continued, adding: “It will register, inform, involve and then turn out these voters through grassroots organizing.” It added that a special effort would be directed toward African American, Latino and working women voters.

In a brief press conference House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi offered a bill of particulars to her charge that the long-time effort by conservatives to under mine the labor movement had “exploded” into an all-out assault since George W. Bush assumed the presidency.

“We’ve lost 2.3 million private sector jobs since January 2001, manufacturing jobs have declined for the 29th consecutive month, the official count of the unemployed stands at 8.6 percent.” Pelosi said during a press conference, adding: “The issue of concern to the American people is jobs, jobs, jobs.”

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who accompanied Pelosi, said a “perfect storm” has come into being sine January 2001. “The Bush administration has put together the most complete assault on the rights of working people … the eight-hour day, overtime pay, pension benefits, collective bargaining, their right to run their own unions.”

During the first day of its Feb. 25-27 meeting here, the council adopted statements out lining a program to restore economic growth and renewing the drive for comprehensive health care reform.

Pointing to the fact that a deepening healthcare crisis “occupies center stage in the lives of millions,” the council said the situation requires the labor movement to show “unstinting determination” in leading a renewed campaign for comprehensive health care reform.

“We need to hold the line against employer attempts to push health care costs onto working family budgets,” the statement said. In its call for grass roots action the council demanded action from both state and federal legislators to constrain costs, expand access to coverage, level the playing field among employers and improve the quality of care.

“As much as anything else, we need to turn the 2004 elections into a referendum on whether Americans should finally be able to get affordable, high quality health care with the right to choose their own doctor.”

Although a resolution dealing with Iraq was pending in the AFL-CIO International Affairs Department, no action had been taken at the time this article was written.

The authors can be reached at fgab708@aol.com and rwood@pww.org