Workers’ Correspondence

Delegates to the 13th Biennial Convention of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 in Illinois called upon members of Congress to refuse to approve the Bush administration’s request for additional funding for Iraqi reconstruction unless such funding is part of a genuine multilateral coalition under the auspices of the United Nations and unless it is coupled with commensurate federal funding for cash-strapped state and local governments.

The convention, which took place in Springfield, Ill., from Oct. 30 to Nov. 1 was attended by 460 delegates representing over 70,000 members statewide. Council 31 members include workers from Illinois hospitals, libraries, mental health facilities and prisons.

Resolution No. 1, titled “A Secure And Just Nation,” also called for the Bush administration to develop a genuinely multilateral approach to rebuilding Iraq through collaboration with the United Nations. It called for an end to the sell-off of Iraqi redevelopment through no-bid contracts to administration cronies. The resolution also called for a repeal of those provisions of the Patriot Act “which strike at the heart of our nation’s deeply ingrained respect for civil liberties.” It said the union “continues to support a strong national defense which protects against terrorist attacks that not only threaten the lives of American citizens, but also create a climate that jeopardizes the liberties so central to American freedom and democracy.”

Executive Director Henry Bayer reported to the convention that the Council was strong and growing due to its successful organizing campaigns. In the face of prison closings across the country, the reopening of the Sheridan Correctional Center and the return to work of its officers, who are AFSCME members, was an important victory, Bayer said.

From this delegate’s perspective, prisons across the country are closing not due to implementation of progressive policies, but due to the fact that states don’t have the money to keep them open. In my opinion, we should seriously think about conversion from employment based on prison industry to employment based on human needs industries.

Bayer warned of the continuing problems facing the union because of rising health care costs and the stubborn resistance to organizing by private employers such as Wal-Mart. He praised the effort to organize Resurrection Health Care, Chicago’s second largest hospital system. Worker layoffs and service cutbacks are unacceptable, said Bayer, calling for a greater effort to educate the public of the need to increase taxes to save jobs and services. He also condemned the tax give-back to the rich as irresponsible. Unfortunately, from this delegate’s perspective, no mention was made of the huge outlay for military armaments, which could be used for the public good.

International Secretary-Treasurer Bill Lucy delivered an emphatic presentation on the designs of the Bush administration to privatize federal jobs. Furthermore, he said, it is unacceptable to spend $4 billion a month for war. When, he asked, did the discussion to do so take place? The answer to this problem, Lucy opined, is that the union must build political strength; and that the union membership must be educated. The delegates enthusiastically received his remarks.

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