WASHINGTON – You know you’re at a great conference when, before the first speaker can finish even one paragraph, 3,000 screaming workers jump to their feet, whooping and hollering to beat George Bush. That about sums up the Industrial Union Council’s 2004 legislative conference held here Feb. 3.

The day before the conference, powdered ricin, a toxin, was found in a mailroom of the Senate office building and they shut down Capitol Hill. “If there is danger on the Hill, it’s not in some little powder packets. The danger is in those who hold power up there,” said Joslyn Williams, president of the Metropolitan Washington Labor Council, in opening the meeting.

“But we are here to liberate the White House and the Congress. Come back in 2005 and I guarantee you the greatest labor celebration ever for taking back our country,” he vowed.

That’s when all hell broke loose. The energy and enthusiasm around the “Beat Bush” theme just grew the rest of the day.

Richard Trumka, chair of the IUC and AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer, reported to the conference on the first year’s work of the IUC, the manufacturing crisis, and the IUC’s 2004 action agenda to beat Bush. He pointed out that there have been 41 consecutive months of manufacturing job loss, a record even longer than the Great Depression.

Trumka made a special point of condemning the Bush administration’s use of funds – part of the special $87 billion appropriation for the Iraq war – on police action against anti-FTAA demonstrators in Miami. After showing a brief video of the protests and the police violence, he called it a disgrace that tax money was used to crush civil liberties.

Linda Chavez-Thompson, AFL-CIO executive vice-president, reported on its “Voice@Work” campaign. She said that central to the project now is building support in Congress for the Employee Free Choice Act, introduced by Sen. Edward Kennedy (S. 1925) and Rep. George Miller (HR 3619). This bill would grant union recognition if a majority of workers in a workplace sign authorization cards (commonly called “card check”) and would stiffen penalties for illegal company tactics against union organizing drives.

Chavez-Thompson also got the crowd going when she described the fighting spirit of the striking grocery workers in Southern California. She had everyone on their feet as the strikers’ chant – “One day longer, one day stronger” – echoed around the hall.

Bill Lucy, president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, gave a rousing call for unity in the fight to defeat Bush and the far right in Congress. He noted that African Americans and Latinos had lost a disproportionately high number of the more than 2.6 million manufacturing jobs lost during the Bush years.

He said that labor has to be honest and admit that Bush had “won” in 2000 by splitting workers and convincing some to vote against their best interests on race issues and on social wedge issues.

“But,” Lucy said to a standing ovation, “we have to come together across the broad spectrum that makes up the union movement so we can take back 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.” Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also gave rousing anti-Bush speeches.

Many of the industrial unions, including the Autoworkers, Steelworkers, and PACE, held their own legislative conferences built around the IUC conference. The Steelworkers’ conference featured excellent panels on health care, the economy, fair trade issues, and on organizing and the Employee Free Choice Act.

The IUC delegates ended their session with a trip to Capitol Hill to lobby on the issues.

The author can be reached at scott@rednet.org.