News Analysis

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Delegates to the Connecticut AFL-CIO convention here showed their commitment to unity in words and deeds as they grappled with changes in the labor movement and sharpening attacks on workers by the Bush administration.

The state federation re-elected all its officers, including those whose unions recently split from the AFL-CIO, in hopes that continuing national negotiations will have positive results.

Brian Petronella, re-elected as general vice president, is president of Local 371 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, a union that left the AFL-CIO for the Change to Win federation. “I enjoyed the Change to Win convention in St. Louis,” he said, “but the bottom line is here in Connecticut, and protecting workers here.”

Speaker after speaker emphasized that every union member can make a difference by letting their national leaders know the labor movement cannot afford to splinter.

Wayne Burrus, international president of the American Postal Workers Union, called upon the AFL-CIO and Change to Win to “move together as a combined force in the face of mighty capitalism.”

“The $5 an hour meat plant worker, the unemployed auto worker, the unorganized Wal-Mart worker demand of us to represent their interests,” he said.

Morton Bahr, retired president of the Communication Workers of America, appealed to the convention to support a national effort to organize workers at Verizon, a “viciously anti-union” employer. Along with Barr, delegates boarded school buses and traveled in the rain to North Haven for a lunchtime picket at a Verizon outlet.

The convention adopted a wide range of resolutions including support for universal health care, affordable housing, extension of the Voting Rights Act, and for the rapid return of U.S. troops from Iraq. “Is this war patriotic?” asked Machinist union delegate Bill Shortell. “George Bush treats the vets like laid-off workers,” he said. “This is a corporate war being fought for profits of Exxon and Texaco. I am proud to be in a movement that is against it.”

Western Connecticut Central Labor Council president Blair Bertaccini emphasized that “just as labor has been in front to protect Social Security, for health care and better wages, labor should be in the front” against the war. “End the war now,” he said to applause.

A one-day constitutional convention will be held at the end of the year to assess the results of national negotiations between the AFL-CIO and Change to Win and determine their impact on Connecticut.