DULUTH, Minn. – The more than 700 delegates to the 45th Constitutional Convention of the Minnesota State AFL-CIO cheered wildly as U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) asked for their support in his bid for a third term. In return, Wellstone promised to continue his militant defense of working families if he wins reelection in November. “I’m proud to be the Labor Senator from Minnesota,” he said to a standing ovation of delegates representing the federation’s more than 400,000 members.

Wellstone, at the top of President Bush’s hate list, is opposed by former St. Paul mayor Norm Coleman, a turncoat Democrat personally recruited by White House political operative Karl Rove. Bush has made three trips to Minnesota on behalf of Coleman while Vice President Cheney and former President George Bush have each made a campaign swing through the state. Wellstone supporters say that money is flowing like the Mississippi River into Coleman’s coffers.

Wellstone, standing in front of a giant banner with the federation’s purple and gold logo at its center, drew laughs when he said none of the money being spread around the state by insurance, pharmaceutical and oil companies had come his way. “I’d like to be able to say that I turned it down on principle but the truth is, they’ve never offered any.”

Instead, he said, his reelection campaign will be run on “retail politics – people talking to people, talking to people, talking to people, talking to people and so on and so on.” These tactics worked in the elections of 1990 and 1996, both of which Wellstone won with barely 50 percent of the vote.

Wellstone said the 2002 election was more than a Minnesota contest. “It’s about our nation’s values and priorities, about whether there are more tax breaks for the rich or schools for children.”

Most observers expect a tight race this year with the victor squeaking through with a bare majority. The situation is made even more upredictable by virtue of the fact that the Green Party has decided to field a candidate in the race for U.S. Senator. Both Ralph Nader and Winona LaDuke, the party’s presidential and vice-presidential candidates in 2000, have endorsed Wellstone.

Labor 2002 in Minnesota will be based on the “Building to win, building to last” strategy first developed by the AFL-CIO in the 1998 election and perfected in state and national elections since. In the 1994 elections, union families accounted for less than 20 percent of the total vote. That share grew to some 23 percent in 1998 and to more than 25 percent in 2000.

The Minnesota AFL-CIO has set its sights on registering 80 percent of the state’s union members, getting 75 percent of them to the polls on Election Day with the goal of getting 75 percent of that number to vote for union-endorsed candidates. “If we can do that, we will deliver 435,000 votes from union families – and we will do it!” Ray Waldron, federation president, told delegates.

Mark Froemke, a federation vice president, thinks the state’s Labor 2002 campaign “is way ahead of where we had hoped. We’ve prepared issue leaflets for our candidates and have the capability of fine-tuning a leaflet for any endorsed candidate running for any office anywhere in the state.”

In addition to endorsing candidates in national, state and local elections, delegates acted upon more than 70 constitutional amendments and resolutions ranging from increasing per capita tax to the Minnesota AFL-CIO to calling for “state and federal regulation of fuel and energy prices.”

Other resolutions included one endorsing the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride initiated by the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union (HERE) scheduled for spring or summer 2003.

Jaye Rykunyk, business manager of HERE Local 17 in Mineapolis/St. Paul, said the march, which will bring thousands of workers to the United Nations in New York and then to Washington is being organized as part of the AFL-CIO campaign to win legal status for immigrant workers.

“We’ve taken a leaf from the civil rights and peace movements,” she told the World. “In both instances, actions such as the Freedom Rides of 1961 helped spark a movement that won the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and hastened an end to the Vietnam War.”

Rykunyk said HERE had set a goal of $5 million to defray the cost of the march and had established a tax-exempt foundation to raise the money and has already raised a million dollars. She added that more than 100 languages and dialects are spoken by the 5,000 workers represented by Local 17.

The author can be reached at fgab708@aol.com


Fred Gaboury
Fred Gaboury

Fred Gaboury was a member of the Editorial Board of the print edition of  People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo and wrote frequently on economic, labor and political issues. Gaboury died in 2004. Here is a small selection of Fred’s significant writings: Eight days in May Birmingham and the struggle for civil rights; Remembering the Rev. James Orange; Memphis 1968: We remember; June 19, 1953: The murder of the Rosenbergs; World Bank and International Monetary Fund strangle economies of Third World countries