WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Speaking to union retirees and activists in Florida last week, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney issued a ringing call to action that labor repeat in 2002 the same all-out effort of the 2000 elections.

The battle is especially hot in Florida where Gov. Jeb Bush is up for re-election and Secretary of State Katherine Harris has decided to run for Congress.

Introducing Sweeney at a

luncheon attended by 150 retirees and representatives from 15 unions, Tony Fransetta recalled the ’37-day war in Florida’ regarding the presidential election. Speaking about ‘partisanship and patriotism’ Fransetta, who chairs Florida’s Alliance for Retired Americans (ARA), urged that a message to ‘wake up and smell the politics!’ be carried to the Democratic National Committee

‘There are more people living in fear [of] lack of health care and prescription drugs than there are in fear of not having a Homeland Defense Secretary,’ he said. ‘It would serve us well to consider bringing them under some Homeland Protection Benefits.’

Fransetta recognized the Century Village ARA as a model for the Florida alliance that now has 106,000 members and is growing.

‘Do not allow anyone to promote a right-wing agenda by masking it with patriotism, guilt and use our love of country to enact such an agenda,’ he said.

After remembering the 1,000 union members who were killed in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, and paying tribute to the thousands of union members who come forward with support for the victims’ families, Sweeney said, ‘I’m afraid that instead of rising to the occasion as workers and union members have done, some members of Congress have abandoned their responsibilities and have even begun using our national crisis and our war footing as a devious cover for irresponsible actions.’

Sweeney said, ‘If the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were wake-up calls to the dangers of terrorism, the performance of Congress in the aftermath rings a bell for all of us who have been struggling so hard to rebuild our movement and restore the voices of working families.’

The retirees responded with enthusiasm to Sweeney’s projection that they play a major role in the all-out political fight for the needs of millions of retired Americans dependent on Social Security and still unable to make ends meet.

‘I saw what our movement and our solidarity can do in our response to the terrorist attacks’ he said, ‘and we must respond in a similar fashion to the attacks on our families that are taking place in the political arena … to take back the House and Senate next year and the White House in 2004.’

After stating his commitment to remain ‘solidly behind the president and our troops in the field until worldwide terrorism is eradicated,’ Sweeney promised that the AFL-CIO would not allow the wealthy and the corporations ‘to function as wartime profiteers and steal from America’s working families what we’ve worked so hard to win over the past 50 years.’