TULSA, Okla. – In an unprecedented show of solidarity, the Oklahoma AFL-CIO has voted to unite all public sector unions in a coalition to coordinate a defense against ultra-right anti-labor legislative efforts. The state, municipal and educators unions, along with the Professional Fire Fighters of Oklahoma, are all taking a lead role in the effort.
The action took place at the federation’s biennial general convention last week in Tulsa.

While a small group of local labor leaders balked at the new spirit of solidarity, the overwhelming majority favored resolutions to initiate coordinated statewide opposition to the corporate agenda.  Specifically, the state AFL-CIO resolved to openly fight the Oklahoma Municipal League, which has consistently worked behind the scenes against collective bargaining rights, and used taxpayer money to do so.

The resolution says:
“[T]he general assembly of the 28th Biennial General Convention of the Oklahoma State AFL-CIO resolves that a broad based coalition shall be formed to challenge the Oklahoma Municipal League on a state and local level, and…that the coalition will work to protect the principles of accountability and transparency … and … defend the rights and dignity of all the working men and women of Oklahoma.”

In addition, the 28th Convention resolved to organize a rally against Oklahoma’s Labor Commissioner, Mark Costello, for violating his oath of office and making slanderous and “dehumanizing remarks” about public sector workers.

The resolutions, however, were not simply focused on individual organizations or right-wing characters, but became a centerpiece for discussions of the larger issues at the heart of the Labor Commissioner’s remarks.

A representative from the American Federation of Teachers said she sees larger dangers, saying: “When I heard the Labor Commissioner’s comments it reminded me of when Governor Frank Keating referred to public teachers as ‘slugs’.”  She went on to say: “Is this an ideology?  Is this part of the right-wing agenda to cast a dim light over people who choose to serve the public rather than make money their reason for being … This is really the time for labor to reunite and rededicate ourselves to restoring America’s labor coalition to what it once was.”

Another teacher from the Oklahoma Educators Association reiterated the dangers coming from the right today, saying: “Too often we’ve made references to fascism as a knee-jerk reaction, but we are truly up against fascistic thought … When we’re saying, ‘Business would be just fine if they didn’t have labor unions, in order for business to be successful you have to..deny the right of workers, that’s a huge step toward a type of social system that very much resembles fascism.”

Following the close of the convention, labor leaders and rank-and-file members marched from the proceedings to join a demonstration in defense of postal employees and Tulsa’s postal service. At the rally, members of Occupy Together declared their solidarity with labor. The spirit of the crowd was jubilant, but staunch and focused on the heart of the matter – the patently anti-democratic nature of corporate power.

On the street, conversations between labor leaders and community activists were spirited. A leading member of the Transport Workers Union put the problem succinctly. He said, “The idea behind what’s happening in America today, the idea is to destroy public employee unions and to destroy the labor movement … But, when you do that, you’re going have only two classes, the poor and the rich, and the poor has to do their bidding like we’re going back to the Middle Ages.”

On Oct. 10, the coalitions formed during last week’s state AFL-CIO Convention are mobilizing a demonstration of “No Confidence” outside the Labor Commissioner’s offices where community and labor groups will demand the resignation of Mark Costello. Oklahoma AFL-CIO President Jimmy Curry will also hold a press conference and announce the formation of a statewide initiative to unite all labor and community groups in an effort to remove from office ultra-right politicians working on behalf of multinationals and anti-labor lobbyist organizations.


J. Shepherd
J. Shepherd

J. Shepherd is a labor activist in Tulsa, Okla.