Labor 2000

BY:Wally Kaufman| September 26, 2001

Report given to the National Committee

U.S. corporations invested one million to buy the White House, Congress,
and the Supreme Court. The Labor 2000 campaign, although outspent 15 to1,
mounted a national campaign that fought the corporations to a stand-off,
a draw.

With a nearly evenly divided house and Senate, we have a guarantee that
the fight-back by labor and the labor-based electoral coalition built
up to win elections 2000 will continue on into the post-election period.
Legislative battles of both an offensive and defensive nature will be
taking place. Social Security, health care, public schools and services,
the minimum and prevailing wage laws, racial profiling and hate crimes,
will all be on the table in the halls of legislature both nationally and

‘Pay check protection’ and ‘right to work’ will be national as well
as local issues. But expect the fortunes of the NLRB to move front and
center in the struggle. Every trade unionist is aware that with only 12%
of the work-force organized, a decisive victory over corporate power is
extremely difficult. Labor has scored some crucial victories in organizing
farm and low-wage service workers, major defensive strike struggles have
been won in basic industry, particularly the steelworkers, and militant
strikes have been won in the professional field, particularly teachers
and nurses. But to make real gains in organizing the unorganized, especially
among temporary and part-time workers, the unions know they are fighting
a difficult uphill battle without labor law reform. Union recognition
through card-check and stiff penalties for corporate violators is a demand
that has echoed throughout the labor movement for some time.

On the other hand the corporations consider the NLRB an unnecessary
nuisance and will be pressuring to weaken if not eliminate whatever rules
still exist which can be used in the interest of workers. And when looking
forward to legislative battles, what about Clinton’s executive order on
ergonomics? The corporations are foaming at the mouth to launch their
attack on that the first day of the new Congress.

What was the content of Labor 2000 and what was built that will carry
us into the post-election battles? John Sweeney says ‘It’s clear that
union members exercised the unmatched power we hold as a unified political
force in our country.’ CNN exit polls show that of the total vote, union
households rose from 23% in 1998 to 26% this year. The national AFL-CIO
reports that 93% of union members heard from their unions, 82% remembered
receiving union publications on the elections, and 21% remembered being
contacted on the job. One thousand union co-ordinators were trained and
brought together by local and state Federations to build the campaign,
with 100,000 volunteers in GOTV work the last two weeks. Eight million
phone calls, 14 million leaflets, 12 million mailings, 755 different work-site
fliers at work-site distributions. Project Vote activities brought 2.3
million new voters. Texas Truth Squads criss-crossed the country. In addition
to the impact on the Presidential and Congressional elections , anti-worker
ballot initiatives were defeated in California, Oregon, and Michigan.
Nationally thousands of unionists walked in neighbor to neighbor and labor
to labor community mobilizations.

The work of both International Unions and state and local Federations
of Labor needs to be understood and studied, and the NLC should help initiate
district discussions on these and other issues such as problems which
prevented a maximum effort. The UAW in Michigan, USWA in Pittsburgh, as
well as the SEIU stand out. Union retirees were an important factor, such
as SOAR in steel, the Retiree Council in Cleveland, and many more centers,
which helps provide a base for organizing the Alliance for Retired Americans.
Coalition Building, a major feature of Labor 2000, saw a new level of
unity in action between labor, and the African American and Latino communities.
Unity was expressed in many ways; in Project vote registration drives
including labor, the NAACP, CBTU, grassroots political organizations in
African American and Latino communities, which brought a 10% increase
in new voters nationally. These coalitions may be brought into a drive
for election law reform resulting from the election fiasco in Florida.
Coalition building needs to be studied. Are all unions convinced and involved?
Were opportunities for coalitions to be built missed, resulting in election
losses? The experiences of Labor 2000 need to be studied and lessons drawn,
emphasizing the strong, positive features of that campaign, and also pinpointing
weaknesses and some ongoing difficulties that need to be examined with
a critical eye toward solutions.

Unions are wasting no time in discussing weaknesses, mistakes which
need to be corrected, where will the focus be for the next year. For example,
the failure of the Ohio AFL-CIO to endorse Rev. Marvin McMickle, a leading
African American Baptist church leader in Cleveland, for U.S. Senate,
was discussed with some criticism at a luncheon including Cleveland Federation
board members and the Presidents of the Cleveland and Ohio AFL-CIO. This
within a sharp confrontation shaping up to replace the Ohio Democratic
Party Chairman. Can the problems in running steelworker candidates be
examined with a view to dealing with problems of disunity in labor, a
problem which is prevalent in many districts? Discussions in Cleveland
lead us to believe that building the Alliance for Retired Americans can
lead to strengthening unity in some Federations. A demand that unions
have a greater input in the selection of candidates they support came
up in the Cleveland Retiree Council when the successful election of several
labor Democrats was discussed, and the failure to elect two legislative
candidates in two critical races. ‘Weak Democratic candidates’ is a problem
raised in many discussions throughout the country, emphasizing the need
for unions to begin immediately to seek out labor candidates to run in
upcoming municipal elections, and to have more to say about candidate
selection before endorsements take place.

The failure of Democrat Party organizations to conduct campaigns in
state after state is being discussed, with large numbers of union people
coming to the realization that the party’s grassroots organization is
weak, and always has had to depend on the unions to provide campaign workers.
The increase in trade union political mobilization with members working
under direction of their unions and Federations is driving home the fact
that labor not only needs to build independent political structure but
is already on the way to doing it. In doing so labor is in fact moving
into a vacuum of political organization at the grass-roots level,a ready
made situation for moving into the municipal elections. John will further
develop this theme based on Cleveland.

On the Florida situation

Last Thursday the National AFL-CIO asked the staff to organize town
hall meeting and news conferences calling for Count The Votes. The news
conference in Cleveland included the presidents of the Ohio and Cleveland
AFL-CIO, two congresspeople, chair of the Democratic Party, and about
thirty labor leaders. There was some publicity in the news media, but
no follow-up actions are proposed at this time. Many people are feeling
frustrated, looking for some direction. In a discussion in the Cleveland
Retiree Council two speakers brought up the subject of Fascism (not Party
members). We know that AFL-CIO leaders in Florida and Ohio want action.
We have reports that in New York and other places some mass action is
taking place. We need to explore quickly if mass action can be stimulated,
hopefully under labor leadership in coalition with community forces. It’s
under discussion in Cleveland.

The Florida struggle for basic democratic rights reflects an intensification
of corporate assault on the rights of all working people, an intensification
of the class character of Elections 2000. This needs to be understood
by trade unionists and they need to be mobilized. Without a clear call
from the top, ready avenues for action are not available. But we in the
Party are no strangers to mobilizing from below, and if we succeed in
some modest initiatives, we can rest assured the leadership will approve.
We in the Party have a particular role to play here in increasing dialogue
with our friends and co-workers in the trade unions, in strengthening
our work in preparation for the post-election battles and upcoming municipal
elections, and right now in helping with the Florida crises.


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