by Paul Garver
Ninety-six union leaders and activists from 26 states and from a broad cross-section of the labor movement , gathering at the Laborers Local 310 Hall in Cleveland on 4-5 March 2011, pledged to make the fight against union-busting and the budget cuts/concessions in Wisconsin the centerpiece of an emergency action plan centered on two national days of action called by the labor movement on12 and April 4.
Participants in the Emergency Labor Meeting (ELM) discussed, amended and adopted a 15 point “Perspectives” document (appended to this post) to serve as the framework for future efforts.
March 12: Participants pledged to go back to their unions and workers’ organizations to promote the March 12 Day of Action called by the Wisconsin AFL-CIO. Brother David Newby, President-Emeritus of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, attended the ELM and relayed the proposal from his state federation that all unionists and labor activists in Wisconsin and neighboring states mobilize in Madison on March 12, with labor-led solidarity actions the same day in cities across the country.
April 4: Participants welcomed the call issued by Larry Cohen, International President of the Communication Workers of America (CWA) to organize on April 4, the anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a “not-business-as-usual” Nationwide Day of Action at workplaces and communities across the country in support of labor rights. This call has since been supported by the AFL-CIO Executive Board, which is urging “movement-wide dramatic actions” on this day.
Participants agreed to promote broad support for this April 4 Day of Action in all ways deemed appropriate by unions and community organizations on the ground, including, where possible, industrial actions. They also urged support for these actions around demands that link the struggle in defense of labor rights to the struggle against budget cuts and concessions, and that point to solutions to the federal and state budget deficits, including taxing the rich and the corporations, cutting the war budget, and creating 27 million full-time jobs through a massive public works program (which could be launched immediately and with a $1 trillion “Bridge Loan” from the Federal Reserve).
To promote these actions, participants pledged to go back to their cities to build “We Are All Wisconsin!” committees of labor and community activists.
Also, in the event the Walker bill is approved by the Wisconsin legislature, the state’s labor movement has announced that it is prepared to launch a recall campaign designed to remove from office seven members of the Wisconsin Senate. The Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, in fact, has already initiated a fundraising campaign for this purpose. [To send a donation, or for updates on this campaign, go to http://www.wisaflcio.org or call 414-771-0700.]
In Ohio, a bill to deny collective-bargaining rights to public employees is likely to pass in the General Assembly. Ohio labor and its allies are already gearing up to get the bill rescinded through a referendum. To qualify for a referendum for the ballot in Ohio, supporters must gather about 230,000 valid signatures within 90 days after the bill passes and is signed by the governor. The Ohio labor movement is organizing to gather the necessary number. The bill will not be implemented for 90 days regardless, but if the requisite number of signatures is submitted and validated, the bill will be held in abeyance pending the November 2011 election. A bill passed by the Ohio General Assembly in 1997 to gut workers’ compensation was never implemented because of a successful labor-led campaign to rescind it through a referendum vote.
Unionists and activists interested in working with the ELM Continuations Committee to advance the goals contained in the ELM Perspectives document should write to <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Perspectives Adopted by the ELM
1 – As they are doing throughout most countries, the corporate class is using the financial crisis orchestrated by them to launch unprecedented attacks on the job security, living standards, working conditions and useful public services once enjoyed by the working class in the United States. This cold-blooded offensive threatens the very existence of our unions.
2 – Labor movement unity in action — public and private sector, the two federations and the independent unions — is indispensable to success in stopping and reversing this assault.
3 – As recent events in Wisconsin have reaffirmed, the key to an effective fight-back is mobilization of the union ranks. We envision a strategy that includes both actions in the workplace and in the streets.
4 – We must go to the streets to defend trade union and democratic rights, as public sector workers are now doing. The right to collective bargaining is a right enshrined in universally recognized Conventions 87 and 98 of the UN-based International Labor Organization (ILO); it is also a human right codified in the UN Charter. In fact, the United States is on trial before world public opinion for violating basic labor rights at home. The ILO ruled recently that the state of North Carolina was out of compliance with international labor standards for denying collective-bargaining rights for public sector workers, and the ILO called on North Carolina and the U.S. government to repeal this ban on collective-bargaining rights.
5 – We must also go to the streets to oppose the concessions demanded by the bosses and the government. There is plenty of money available without demanding givebacks from public employees, but this requires changing our nation’s priorities to raise taxes on the rich, redirect war dollars to meet human needs, and more — all demands that we must place on the federal government. We can no longer effectively deal with such crucial issues as health care and retirement through collective bargaining alone.
6 – We not only defend the social insurance model — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public education, food stamps, unemployment insurance, etc. — but demand that these programs be strengthened and improved. And it is high time we follow the example won by our Canadian sisters and brothers decades ago by extending Medicare to all.
7 – Nor can contract negotiations create the 27 million full-time jobs urgently needed today. Since the private sector has failed to do this (in fact, the corporations continue to off-shore good full-time jobs in their continued drive to lower labor costs), we need a public sector that can put America back to work rebuilding our neglected and crumbling infrastructure, revitalizing mass transit, and promoting a sustainable economy. The public sector and public services provide the basic core safety net for human rights.
8 – In fighting for such independent solutions to our country’s crises we would return to what once was the bedrock of trade unionism — our unions champion the needs of the entire working class, including the unemployed, not just our dues-paying members. That approach was what enabled the historic labor victories during the depths of the Great Depression. This is not only the right thing to do; with union density at near record lows we cannot win the big struggles just on our own.
9 – To cement working class unity we reject every attempt to divide us by race, skin color, gender, immigration status, religion, or sexual orientation. This means not only politically correct resolutions but active support to all targets of such pernicious discrimination.
10 – A unified, energized working class could reach out for even wider alliances. There are millions of students, mom-and-pop businesses, family farmers, and others who are being squeezed by the corporate class. Seeking to partner with the Chamber of Commerce and corporate America, however, can only lead to failure for labor and its allies.
11 – Our goals cannot be met while American blood and vast amounts of our tax dollars are being consumed by unjust wars to advance the global corporate agenda. We say end the wars, bring all of our troops home now — and put the war budget to work for human needs.
12 – Instead of supporting wars of intervention, the labor movement should embrace international worker solidarity. The mutual declarations of support between protesters in Madison and insurgent independent unions in Egypt are a proud example that deserve wide emulation.
13 – Since many of the attacks we face today have bipartisan support, labor must act independently of these two parties. To the extent that the labor movement subordinates its demands to agreements with these parties in the name of “shared sacrifice,” it will not be able to defend effectively the interests of its members and of the working-class majority.
14 – The call to protect the right to collective bargaining must include the demand to repeal all laws that prevent workers, such as those in the U.S. South, from having the right to bargain collectively and arrive at enforceable contracts. All laws, such as the Taft-Hartley Act, that prevent the consolidation of strong unions in the Southeast and other regions of the country must be repealed.
15 – We must view organizing the South as fundamental to rebuilding a strong national labor movement in this country.