Michigan’s John Conyers: Tireless champion for jobs and voting rights

What happens in the 2012 elections could make or break struggling cities like Detroit that have been devastated by the economic crisis.

Spurred by the necessity for strong pro-labor members of Congress and principled, unifying tactics to defeat the extreme right-wing, the Detroit Metro and Michigan State AFL CIO, the UAW and 15 more unions endorsed Rep. John Conyers in the August 7 primary.

President Obama also endorsed Conyers saying he needs a foremost fighter for jobs to work with him in his second term.

Republican controlled redistricting in Michigan led to a crowded Democratic primary field in Conyers’ redrawn metropolitan Detroit 13th Congressional District.

In January, on Martin Luther King Day, the AFL CIO presented Conyers with the Justice, Peace and Freedom Award for his leadership in job creation and voting rights, and for a lifetime of service that has improved opportunities for millions of working class people in his own district and the entire country.

The legislation Conyers courageously championed and helped pass since he was first elected in 1965 is the very legislation that tea party Republicans are now out to overturn and destroy.

Conyers introduced the Motor Voter Act of 1993 and was a leader for the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to insure that everyone eligible can register and vote. He introduced the Martin Luther King Holiday Act of 1983 and the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. As chair of the Judiciary Committee he introduced the Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the Fair Sentencing Act of 2009, all of which are now law.

In addition, Conyers is a leader in on-going legislative struggles for HR 676 Medicare for All, for public works job creation and to raise the minimum wage, to protect working families against foreclosures, to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and for the right to form a union. He is chair of the Out of Afghanistan Caucus, and a strong voice for a peacetime economy.

As a founding member and dean of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Progressive Caucus, Conyers has upheld the fight for African American representation, racial and gender equality and a shift in priorities to human needs before corporate interests.


The city of Detroit, once a thriving industrial center and the home of Motown music, is now struggling for survival. Detroit’s Black, Latino and white workers are all facing the pressures of long-term unemployment. But a July 7 report by the Economic Policy Institute indicates a seven point drop in official African American unemployment in metropolitan Detroit since 2010 when it was 25%, to 18% today. White workers’ official unemployment is 16.2%, reflecting a smaller gap than the rest of the country.

The immediate need for job creation is at the center of Conyers’ work. Acting with the Michigan delegation and the Obama administration to restore millions of jobs in the auto industry recovery, and securing federal funds for several large restoration projects has been a start.

In June 2010 Conyers convened a town hall meeting in Detroit to discuss whose responsibility it is to create jobs, a central question in the 2012 elections.

Tea party Republicans insist that the private market creates jobs and government has no role. Conyers rejected that notion saying, “We have to form the strategy to move our Congress, state and city to create jobs.”

In March 2011 he introduced H.R. 870, the “Humphrey-Hawkins 21st Century Full Employment and Training Act,” which would create a new tax on Wall Street speculators placing billions of dollars a year into Workforce Investment Act (WIA) training programs and innovative public and private sector jobs programs. 

Three months later, Conyers co-hosted the Congressional Progressive Caucus “Good Jobs Tour” in Detroit to hear from the unemployed and build a groundswell of support for rebuilding America by redirecting money from wars, Wall Street and the rich. Conyers spoke passionately to the large audience about the need for the White House to do more.

“We are going to Washington to tell the President we want him to lead in the fight for jobs. We will tell him we are ready to help,” said Conyers.

President Obama responded to Conyers’ appeal by endorsing him in the August 7 primary as “a tireless champion for all of Southeastern Michigan’s working families, especially the many struggling to get by.”

In his endorsement, Obama emphasized, “Republicans want to continue their agenda of working to take us back to the failed policies of the past. We cannot let them succeed, and that’s why we all need to work hard to get a real “Pro-jobs Champion”, like Congressman John Conyers, Jr. re-elected to keep Metro Detroit and the country moving in a job growth direction.”

Voting Rights

If voters across the country elect a Democratic controlled Congress, and if voters in the newly drawn 13th CD in Michigan elect Conyers, he will once again chair the House Judiciary Committee, where he is now the ranking member. Conyers will then be in a position to uphold democratic rights.

Under Republican control, the Judiciary Committee is attempting to limit democratic rights. Committee chair Lamar Smith, R-Tex., supports states’ rights to suppress the vote. He opposes the Department of Justice challenge to the new voter law in Texas requiring registered voters to present a government issued photo ID at the polls.

In a July 13 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Smith said, “I hope that the court will uphold the Texas voter ID law and the rights of states to ensure the integrity of their elections.”

It is now known that the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch funded the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) drive to push through voter suppression laws in 30 states, in blatant disregard of Voting Rights Act provisions safeguarding against historic discriminatory and racist practices.

In some key battleground states one in ten registered voters do not have the newly required identification. In addition, many states have curtailed access to voting registration and early voting where that has been past practice.

When the attack on voting rights first became apparent last year, Conyers helped sound the alarm that the laws amount to a new poll tax restricting the voter access of African Americans, Latinos, students, the elderly and disabled.

He joined with Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., to co-sponsor the Voter Empowerment Act H.R. 5799, which would ensure equal access to the ballot box, protect the integrity of voting systems and mandate accountability for fair elections. The bill has 140 co-sponsors and growing public support.

Conyers also sounded the alarm about loss of democratic rights from Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s policy of replacing elected government officials in cities near bankruptcy with an “emergency manager.” While Detroit struggles to keep afloat, the Republican state government scandalously used federal stimulus dollars, allocated as revenue sharing for Detroit, to fill the state budget gap,

In January, 2,000 people turned out for a rally convened by Conyers and Detroit City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson. Conyers warned that the use of managers is a test case being watched by Republicans across the country. A quarter million signatures were collected to place a question on the ballot to repeal Public Act 4 — Michigan’s Emergency Manager law.

The AFL CIO Peace, Justice and Freedom award presented to Rep. John Conyers for his devotion to workers’ rights and civil rights celebrates his remarkable decades long leadership. That leadership and vision is much needed today.

Accepting the award, Conyers issued a call for a grass roots effort to reach out as widely as possible to voters this year to discuss the choice our country faces. “We have to educate our brothers and sisters,” said Conyers. “Some of the 99 percent are not voting with the 99 percent.”

Photo: Michigan AFL-CIO President Karla Swift (left), Metro Detroit AFL-CIO President Saundra Williams (second from left) and national AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker (right) watch as Rep. John Conyers accepts the AFL-CIO’s Justice, Peace and Freedom Award. Photo by Herman Greene, Let ME Shoot You Photography.



Joelle Fishman
Joelle Fishman

Joelle Fishman chairs the Connecticut Communist Party USA. She is an active member of many local economic rights and social justice organizations. As chair of the national CPUSA Political Action Commission, she plays an active role in the broad labor and people's alliance and continues to mobilize for health care, worker rights, and peace. Joelle Fishman preside el Partido Comunista de Connecticut USA. Es miembro activo de muchas organizaciones locales de derechos económicos y justicia social. Como presidenta de la Comisión Nacional de Acción Política del CPUSA, desempeña un papel activo en la amplia alianza laboral y popular y continúa movilizándose por la atención médica, los derechos de los trabajadores y la paz.