St. Louis to Be One of AFL-CIO `Union Summer' Cities

Article excerpt

Hoping to tap the type of idealism and racial cooperation that sparked the Freedom Summer of 1964, U.S. labor leaders will mobilize 1,000 young people this summer to organize workers and fight for workplace rights.

St. Louis is one of 18 cities the AFL-CIO will target in the effort this summer, the labor group said this week.

Most are coastal or southern cities, aside from three other Midwestern sites: Chicago, Detroit and Akron.

They were chosen on the basis of proposals from local labor leaders about what types of work-related struggles were brewing and how the interns would be used.

One aim, said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, is "to restore organized labor's political and economic clout by building a social movement beyond Washington."

Young people are being recruited - students or workers - to spend three-week internships working with experienced unionists on local issues.

"We want to build into the next generation an understanding," Sweeney said, "that the labor movement is at the heart of the struggle for social justice."

The youthful organizers will get stipends of $210 a week, free housing and several days of training for the sessions, which will take place in June, July and August. Participants will help plan strategy, knock on doors, leaflet at plant gates and join in demonstrations. They'll focus on the sectors of manufacturing, health care, hotels and retail, and on such issues as fair wages and protection from unfair firings, sexual harassment and discrimination.

Some interns will go on a bus tour through the Deep South to register voters.

The program, dubbed "Union Summer," will cost the AFL-CIO $1-$2 million.

Its director, Andy Levin, said the notion that young people are disengaged is belied by the early response - more than 1,600 applications. They're motivated not by "a misguided missionary spirit that they are going to save the working class," he said, but by solidarity borne of insecurity about the future because of stagnant wages, mass layoffs and a growing gap between rich and poor. …