INDIANAPOLIS – On Dec. 17 over 350 union delegates assembled here for the 22nd Indiana State AFL-CIO convention.

Delegates from 118 different labor organizations included members of service, education and government unions, as well as building trades and industrial unions.

Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson welcomed the delegates with the announcement that he will sign the first collective bargaining bill for city employees. He said his chief labor focus is public works projects.

Greetings also came from Gov. Frank O’Bannon, who has proposed an additional 13-week extension on unemployment. Indiana faces a crisis of layoffs, especially if the steel company, LTV, is allowed to close its doors.

Rep. Julia Carson (D-Ind.) received unanimous support for her 2002 re-election bid. Carson did not mince words when she said there is a war against terrorism but the 1.9 million jobs lost to fast track demonstrate another war against the labor movement.

Carson said the American taxpayers are paying for the biggest corporate rip-off ever. Billions went to corporations to stimulate their greed, she said.

People jumped to their feet when she ended her speech by saying, “What they need to do is take away the tax break from the corporations and give it to the unemployed.”

Other important labor allies, like college students, were part of the convention. Working to bring union awareness to the Indiana campuses, the students spoke about the victorious hunger strike at Purdue that resulted in the administration finally agreeing to remove sweatshop clothing from campus stores.

The convention paid tribute to all the union workers who died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. A video of union workers recalling the bravery and solidarity shown that day and in the days following brought many delegates to tears.

At the end was a list of those union members who lost their lives. A member of the Indiana Fire Fighters Union played “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes.

United Steel Workers of America President Leo Gerard followed with a rousing speech. He said Sept. 11 made him question the purpose of life and what he did for a living and reinforced how important our values are – the values of caring, dignity, sharing in prosperity, giving power to the powerless, giving a helping hand regardless of race, color or creed.

“No one called Bill Gates or any of the other corporate CEO’s for help that day,” Gerard said. “It’s the unions who got called.

“We cannot rebuild the World Trade Center because the plants that could have supplied the materials are closed,” Gerard said, referring to the 29 steel companies in bankruptcy.

“While our president immorally wrapped himself in the flag of anti-terrorism, corporations like Enron get $290 million in tax breaks while workers get unemployed,” he said.

“We must be prepared to take risks; prepared to stand in the streets. We need to occupy our factories and chain ourselves to the equipment,” Gerard said to cheers.

“We need to be in civil disobedience, participate in parades with everyone marching to change the direction, not marching to oblivion. We need progress, hope and justice for all.”