CWA strongly backs reproductive choice
CWA Facebook page

PITTSBURGH — By a show of hands and with – surprisingly – no dissent, Communications Workers 76th convention delegates adopted a report strongly backing reproductive choice.

The reproductive choice stand was part of a larger report from the union’s Women’s Committee, one of a dozen reports and resolutions the unionists approved at their 2-day conclave in Pittsburgh, Aug. 7-8.

Also approved were pledges to campaign for a fairer tax system – including higher taxes on the rich and on financial transactions – denunciation of “modern-day slavery” of U.S. prison labor and a blast at ineffective charter schools that discriminate against minorities.

Approval also went to a demand for direct election of the president and vice president of the U.S., and resolutions committing CWA against the GOP budget cuts in domestic programs that support working families, for setting pro-worker standards for a “new NAFTA,” declaring worker rights are human rights, for protecting journalists’ right to report and denouncing Islamophobia, among other issues.

The union also committed itself to two more large campaigns.

One, CWA Strong, anticipates a negative ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court next year making every state and local government worker a potential “free rider” who could use union services – including negotiations and contract enforcement – without paying one red cent for them. Subsequent defections would cost CWA an estimated 9 percent of its revenues, one calculation shows.

CWA Strong enacts intensive training for rank-and-file members and commits locals to personal one-on-one lobbying of “free riders,” convincing them of CWA’s value to them and signing them up before and after the High Court decision. CWA set a goal of enlisting 40,000 non-members in its union-represented shops by its next convention.

The other, the Fight Forward program, focuses on “building power through local activism and mobilization” for human rights causes.

“To stem the dangerous assaults on the working class and to move forward towards a more just and equitable society, we must build a broad grass-roots movement,” starting with the union’s own civil rights and equity and women’s committees, delegates decided. They did not set a budget or specific goals for Fight Forward.

On reproductive choice, News Guild President Bernie Lunzer told a pre-session caucus of his sector’s CWA delegates that in past years, the union did not take a stand because of the divisiveness it would cause in convention debate. This year, in the wake of the election of GOP President Donald Trump and a GOP congressional majority determined to roll back the clock on women’s rights, the mood on the floor was different.

CWA leaders and members proudly noted from both the podium and in floor speeches their participation in the 500,000-plus person women’s march the day after Trump’s inauguration. The committee showed a video intertwining scenes from that Jan. 21 event with black-and-white photos of prior women’s marches for equality, all the way back to the right to vote.

“Through the Clinton presidency and the Obama presidency, we made strides,” Local 9003 member Mike Frost said from a floor mic during discussion of the women’s committee report. “Unfortunately now, women’s rights – along with pretty much everything else – are under attack. We as a union need to deal with that.”

The women’s committee report cites particular threats to reproductive choice from Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, the billionaire right wing Koch brothers and from HR586, legislation by Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., “a middle-aged white male” whose legislation declares “the right to life begins with fertilization, cloning or its equivalent.”

Hite’s bill gives Congress and the states “the authority to protect all human lives,” including those he cites. “This bill would effectively make abortions illegal by giving embryos autonomous rights,” the CWA report says.

“The best defense is to block our opponents’ offense,” the report continues. “Some Americans don’t realize we already have a say in what is done in our statehouses and in Congress. We need to educate, communicate and convince our members to take action now.”

Besides partnering with Planned Parenthood and other reproductive rights groups, the women’s committee report says each CWA local “should organize an informational campaign aimed at mobilizing our members, their families and friends…to keep pressure on lawmakers to stop” Hice’s bill and GOP legislation outlawing federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

“Each local should also seek out ways to support women’s health programs such as Planned Parenthood with donations of money and time,” and “reach out to like-minded groups to coordinate our efforts,” it continues.

The pro-reproductive rights presentation concluded with the Women’s Committee members donning the distinctive pink knit hats that marked the January 21 march and parading off the podium, chanting “My body, my choice!’ while the crowd responded “Her body, her choice!”

Except the denunciation of virtual slavery in the prisons, all the other measures drew no dissent. “You can be used as a slave if you are convicted of a crime,” the Civil Rights and Equity Committee said. But while that report singled out privatization of prisons in 37 states as a key problem, speakers from CWA locals who represent corrections officers felt it implicitly blamed them, too.

“I agree with most of this report, but when we talk about prison labor, this does not capture what it is really like,” said one, Richard Hatch of Local 2201 in Virginia. “It’s designed to train and retrain inmates who come in with very little (job) skills, so they can have a better life after they get out.” But over those few locals’ show of hands in dissent, the report passed.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.