This weekend hundreds of AFL-CIO Labor Council representatives met in Oakland, California to collaborate and reenergize our grassroots efforts to stop the extremist right wing attacks on workers in Wisconsin and throughout the nation. (Our political director, Amber Parrish and new community services director, Ramneek Saini, joined me at this conference.) After a wonderfully successful series of protests and rallies on April 4—where thousands hit the street in San Francisco’s financial district— we spent three painful but necessary days sharing stories and strategies about how we will not only fight the defensive battles to protect worker rights, but how we will elect representatives who support workers rights. We also agreed that we have to negotiate on our terms. Not the corporations’.
And let’s be clear: our agenda is creating and preserving good jobs as well as making corporate America pay its fair share. And we need to find paths to not only march on the streets, but to be effective with our message.
A real example: Saturday morning at breakfast some of our colleagues tried to act positively because the federal government didn’t shut down. That didn’t last long because it suddenly became painfully clear that the deal still eliminated jobs and unknown social services. How far do we have to go backwards? Why don’t we bargain on our terms? Workers’ terms.
The labor union movement is the only institution and constituency group in America that fights for workers and keeps a check on corporate greed. As our Labor Council President, Mike Casey, stated in his remarks at our conference, “Corporations wouldn’t be putting these anti-collective bargaining bills in the legislatures if they were afraid of me or Tim Paulson or Jerry Brown. They put these attacks on the ballot and in the state houses and spend their millions of profit dollars because they know the power of our union workers to fight for a living wage.”
In California, where our massive November Get-Out-The-Vote campaign elected a worker-friendly governor (against a corporation candidate who spent over $130 million to buy the election) and served as a model for stopping the anti-worker tide that poisoned so many other places in America, we feel even more obligated and responsible for strategizing on how to protect workers’ rights and create jobs throughout our nation.
And we will.
At our conference we shared best practices regarding job creation. Discussions included the worker-friendly transit expansion in Colorado, the jobs-creating legislative agenda in New Mexico, and the thousands of union jobs to be created in San Francisco, which I was asked to share, concerning the community benefits agreement (CBA) the Labor Council negotiated in the Hunters Point Shipyard—a deal negotiated on our terms which included 35% affordable housing, card check labor agreements for many industries, and workforce development monies to empower neighborhood workers.
Sunday – this morning – we were inspired by the visit of Senator Lena Taylor from Milwaukee, one of the Wisconsin 14, who left the state rather than be part of a state government that (behind closed doors) voted to eliminate workers’ rights.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been inspired by a leader who has the passion for justice and workers rights as Senator Taylor. California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano is my model of unrelenting leadership for worker and civil rights justice. But today I can say I have never, in the last few years, been inspired by anyone as much as I have by the leadership of Senator Lena Taylor of Wisconsin.
As a leader and legislator she left her young son and left the state rather than be part of a government that would strip workers’ rights. She talked about a roadmap to organize. She led the clapping when the music program started. She edited the AFL-CIO’s organizing “to do” papers in our packets (e.g. talk about workers rights, not “collective bargaining”). She shared targeting ideas about the political field plan for Wisconsin elections. She initiated chants – which we immediately obeyed. She stated that we had to stop making war around the world and if she had more time I’m sure she would’ve put together the offensive strategy for the Green Bay Packers in 2011. And damn! She cares about workers. She cares about justice. And she pushed us with the many paths to get there and keep them.
Viva Lena Taylor from Wisconsin: Viva the American Labor Movement.