Labor: In Fighting Trim

Article excerpt

The September 11 attacks spread their pall over the AFL-CIO convention in early December as union representatives touchingly remembered the dead--including 631 union members--and honored the everyday heroism of workers like firefighters, ironworkers and nurses. But unions also confronted the political fallout of the terror attacks, which undermined globalization protests, dampened a new antisweatshop campaign, chilled labor's crusade for immigration reform and gave Bush new clout, which he used to eke out a one-vote House passage of fast-track trade-promotion authority that labor has strongly opposed. Delegates thunderously pounded their tables in approval as AFL-CIO president John Sweeney condemned Bush and "his corporate backers [for] waging a vicious war on working families." Firefighter president Harold Schaitberger similarly warned politicians, "We don't want homilies. We want healthcare for every worker."

While supporting the battle against terrorists, the AFL-CIO attacked the Bush Administration's antiterrorism measures as a threat to civil liberties with only one dissenting voice in the executive council. Union leaders showed little enthusiasm for the war despite statements of support, and there were indications that labor would not back its extension. "Catching and dealing with bin Laden and Al Qaeda is one thing," UNITE (clothing and textile workers) president Bruce Raynor said. "Waging war on lots of other countries is another."

While labor grieved, corporate America attacked workers with plant closings, layoffs and pursuit of legislative favors in Washington, Raynor said, but now unions must "be more aggressive than ever" in organizing and mobilizing against the "deceit" and "hypocrisy" of big business and the White House. "We don't believe the recession will have any substantive negative impact on organizing," argued Gerald McEntee, president of AFSCME, which since 1998 has doubled its spending on organizing and quadrupled the number of newly organized public service workers to roughly 50,000 this year. …