CHICAGO – The Chicago Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) held its 23rd annual Florence Criley Awards Dinner here March 3 in celebration of International Women’s Day.

About 250 people gathered to honor AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and five Chicago women labor leaders: Phyllis Magee of the Teachers Union; Yolanda (Bobbie) Hall from United Auto Workers; Transit Worker Claudette Ogletree; Office workers’ union member Valerie Roberts and Marilyn Massey from the State, and County and Municipal Workers union.

Katie Jordan, president of Chicago CLUW, opened and chaired the program, welcoming Illinois AFL-CIO President Margaret Blackshere, State Representative Mary Flowers, Illinois CLUW Vice President Delores Wasmund; and Rev. Addie Wyatt, a CLUW founding member and executive vice president emerita.

Jordan outlined the proud history of CLUW and its fight for women’s equality. She highlighted the new role of women in the AFL-CIO, the establishment of the Working Women’s Department and thanked Sweeney for “listening to working women’s concerns because as long as someone is listening there can be progress.”

Blackshere accepted CLUW’s award for Sweeney as well as giving the main remarks. She called on the crowd to give four days in March to the labor movement in its drive to mobilize the grassroots for the 2002 elections.

Blackshere blasted the state legislature for their law depriving Chicago school workers bargaining rights.

“The big shots in the city think we don’t need it; they’ll take care of us. We’ll take care of ourselves,” she said, calling for the law’s revocation. Blackshere also blasted President Bush’s pro-corporate policies. She said others warn her it’s not the time to be critical of the president.

“I’ll be damned if he will wrap himself in our flag while he gives millions to corporations and nothing to laid-off workers,” she said. Blackshere called for union women and all labor to get active in the fight for health care, organizing the unorganized and the elections.

Flowers, who chairs the Health Care Committee of the Illinois House of Representatives, also emphasized the importance of union women’s involvement in politics.

Flowers said she “couldn’t believe” some of the battles for quality health care and women’s health rights that have to be waged.

“We have to fight for insurance companies to issue birth control pills to paying customers,” she said,” while they want to give Viagra for free.”