Mich. AFL-CIO urges stepped-up action

TROY, Mich. — Mark Gaffney, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO, addressed its 27th biennial convention here May 15 and called for labor to put the word “movement” back on its agenda.

He cited labor’s history and its responsibility to both build a powerful organization and to reach into the community to build a movement for labor rights, equality and justice.

Gaffney said the progressive movement could not survive without labor, but that a period of “business unionism” in the 1960s and 1970s had separated labor from too many progressive movements and all suffered because of it.

“That is beginning to change,” he said, citing “labor’s leading role in the political tide that swept the country in 2006. We fed it, and it fed us.”

Gaffney told the delegates that the AFL-CIO will launch an initiative in Michigan to go door to door to sign up people in 200,000 households as associate members of the AFL-CIO. He said unions must unite with the community of nonunion workers and their families.

Andy Levin, deputy director of the Michigan Department of Labor, spoke about what needed to be done to “get Michigan moving.”

“While capital goes wherever it wants,” Levin said, “we need rules of the road for global trade that guarantee workers the right to organize and ensure workers get equitable wages.”

Levin, who worked in the national AFL-CIO’s organizing department for 10 years, said the only way to stop the “terror campaign” that companies initiate after workers vote to form a union is to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which contains stiff penalties for such abuses.

Regarding the state’s budget crisis, Levin said Michigan is one of only eight states with a flat income tax. While Republicans only want to take an ax to state programs, “we need to put workers, justice and children back into the discussion. We have to have the guts to get a progressive income tax.”

Levin called for a “No Worker Left Behind” program that would give any unemployed worker — and anyone currently working with a family income under $40,000 — up to two years of free tuition for retraining. Gov. Jennifer Granholm supports the proposal, he said.

jrummel @pww.org