Labor summit launches drive to fulfill voter mandate

News Analysis

Folks were still eating turkey sandwiches when the AFL-CIO issued its call for a Dec. 8-9 labor summit and march in Washington, D.C., to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, a top legislative priority for labor. Among the summit’s goals is training 250,000 “trusted messengers,” worksite-based labor activists, to force veto-proof enactment of EFCA.

It is an unprecedented move by labor, just days after a national election, to launch a grassroots organizing initiative to guarantee the voters’ mandate becomes a legislative reality.

The labor summit and march, timed to coincide with International Human Rights Day, Dec. 10, will build on the Nov. 7 election victory to push “with renewed vigor, resolve and hope that we can restore fundamental workers’ rights in America,” AFL-CIO Organizing Director Stewart Acuff said in a Nov. 28 statement.

EFCA would amend the National Labor Relations Act to allow workers to form unions by simply signing a card or petition, impose real penalties on employers who violate the law, and allow for arbitration to settle first contract disputes. The labor federation sees the measure as “the first major step” to restore workers’ rights, Acuff said. Change to Win unions also plan to push on EFCA.

“The stunning victory of Democratic congressional candidates created a pro-worker and pro-worker-rights majority in the House of Representatives and a much more supportive Senate,” he noted. But the federation is not sitting back and waiting for the politicians.

The summit and other initiatives show workers and the broad progressive movements are swinging into action, to translate ballots into decisive congressional action on Iraq, civil rights, economic justice and democracy.

• United for Peace and Justice, the national peace coalition, will deliver voters’ demands to end the Iraq war to the newly elected Congress, Jan. 27.

• The NAACP and a host of civil rights organizations launched a grassroots campaign Nov. 29 for passage of the End Racial Profiling Act. The goal is passage before the current Congress goes home for the holidays, but the bill is expected to be re-introduced next year.

• MoveOn.org, with 3 million online members, is organizing grassroots meetings Dec. 5 to kickoff its Mandate for Change campaign to press Congress on health care, clean energy, an Iraq exit strategy and restoring constitutional freedoms.

These and other groups, along with Democrats, are focusing now on the first 100 hours of the new Congress.

At a Nov. 28 meeting with aides to House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), union leaders and progressives mapped out a broad, unified lobbying push to promote Pelosi’s 100-legislative-hour agenda.

AFL-CIO, AFSCME, the Service Employees International Union, the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers and a slew of progressive groups — including USAction, ACORN, Campaign for America’s Future, and MoveOn.org — attended the meeting, The Hill reported.

The 100-hour agenda includes ethics reform; enacting security recommendations of the bipartisan 9/11 commission; raising the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour; cutting student loan interest rates in half; allowing the government to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies for lower drug prices for Medicare patients, and broadening the types of stem cell research allowed with federal funds.

AFL-CIO Legislative Director Bill Samuel estimated that the first 100 legislative hours of the new Congress will span about two weeks. The various labor and progressive groups will then begin to pursue their individual legislative goals.

“The 100 hours’ agenda is really stuff that can be done quickly and have popular support and is not terribly complicated,” said Samuel. “It’s a down payment, there’s a much larger agenda.”

Congress has to tackle big economic issues related to wages, retirement security, and health care, he noted. That’s where differences, based on class, have emerged.

On one side of the Democratic kitchen table is Shared Prosperity, comprised of unions, progressive groups and the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal economic research group with an agenda to achieve universal health care and expand Social Security to offset corporate attacks on the private pension system.

Across the table is the Hamilton Project, composed of the Democratic Party’s largest corporate donors. It’s headed by Robert Rubin, chairman of Citigroup’s executive committee and former Clinton treasury secretary, who disagrees.

International Association of Machinists union spokesman Rick Sloan summed up the differences: “When the wizards of Wall Street start dictating Democratic [Party] policy, the first to be forgotten are the Democratic voters who made these election successes possible,” he said. “We get screwed every time these guys grab the handles of power. They forget the need to create jobs.”

Round-table meetings are being held to hash out agreement on an economic agenda. Trade issues were at the heart of the first of a series of meetings between Sweeney and Rubin. Sweeney said the initial discussion was “cordial,” but it’s “tough to be tough and nice.” The next meeting will include union presidents and will have health care on the agenda.

dwinebr696 @ aol.com