Labor opens house to all U.S. workers

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LOS ANGELES - Leaders of unions and some of their nonunion allies emerged from the floor of the AFL-CIO convention here Sept. 9 to talk about "Resolution 5," a key resolution approved here that literally invites every American worker to join the labor movement.

"Union members are a minority among America's workers as well as among voters in most elections, and that has been increasingly so for more than half a century," Resolution 5 reads.

"The popular majority, of which union members are a key part, is fragmented in the face of global corporations and the 1 percent that controls a vast and increasing amount of wealth and threatens to seize control of our democracy."

Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America, said the labor movement has been "confined" and "limited" by the government and employers when the reality is "all workers who want to take collective action to improve wages, hours and working conditions" make up the labor movement.

Cohen also called on all unions to "innovate and experiment" with new membership and representational forms. "Our unions must be open to all workers who want to join us," he told the media.

Echoing a call from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, Cohen said, "It is our task to do nothing less than to create a new mass working class movement in this country."

One living example of what Cohen was talking about came from Denise Watts, a 24-year-old African American retail worker from St. Paul, Minn. Watts, who was on the convention floor here this week and participated in the panel discussion on the resolution, said she is not in a union, but she is involved in Working America, the AFL-CIO's affiliate for non union members.

"Working America is great because it gave me opportunities to work together with others to solve problems we have on the job," Watts said. (Story continues after video.)

Sarita Gupta, executive director of the newly-merged Jobs with Justice and American Rights at Work, talked on the same panel about how her group has been working in the new inclusive direction for 25 years. "At the end of the day," she said, "everyone needs a voice at work."

She described how her group, itself not a traditional labor union, worked with community groups recently to win a major victory in Atlanta, Ga. "We won a victory for school workers by demanding that Georgia's commissioner of Labor reverse a decision to deny summer unemployment benefits to low paid seasonal school workers."

The resolution actually called upon everyone in the United States to join the labor movement.

"The AFL-CIO hereby invites every worker in the United States to join the labor movement either through an affiliate or through Working America," the resolution reads.

To make the invitation meaningful the resolution called upon Working America and all the AFL-CIO affiliates and unions to "develop forms of workplace representation and advocacy that can benefit members outside collective bargaining agreements by educating them about their workplace rights, providing assistance when their rights are violated, and encouraging concerted action to redress workplace grievances."

The resolution, titled "A Broad and Effective Labor Movement," approved by the convention, can be read in its entirety here .

Video by Rossana Cambron and edited by Eli Halbreich.

 Photo: AFL-CIO Convention 2013 delegates demonstrate at local Nissan dealership demanding union and labor rights for Nissan workers in Mississippi. One of several actions taking place during the convention, including distributing beautiful hand-made, full size, stand up card board figures of workers around the city demanding immigration reform, labor right, fight for 15, reinstating fired Walmart and fast food workers and more. Standing up, Fighting back! Scott Marshall/PW

 

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