AFL-CIO Joins Other Progressives in Democracy Alliance, As Coalition Turns Toward Politics

CHICAGO –The AFL-CIO stepped forward to publicly proclaim its membership in a wide-ranging coalition of progressive groups, the Democracy Alliance, even as that coalition turns its attention from grant-making for progressive causes to electoral politics.

The alliance, founded in 1995, welcomed federation President Richard Trumka to its April 29 meeting in Chicago.  The alliance requires member groups to pay a $30,000 yearly membership fee and contribute a minimum of $200,000 to progressive organizations.

News reports out of the Chicago meeting indicated the alliance, whose board includes Service Employees President Mary Kay Henry, is turning more towards politics, both this year and especially in anticipation of the 2016 presidential election.  Conference panels discussed progressive issues such as battling income inequality, campaigning for climate change legislation and regulation, gun control, abortion rights and the future of the death penalty.

The federation’s membership in the alliance, which has received funds from wealthy progressive individuals and foundations, is important as part of its outreach to other progressive organizations – an outreach that led the fed to open itself to workers, union and non-union and to outside groups at its convention in Los Angeles last year.

In his speech to the group, Trumka said labor’s aim is to create a better nation, with more equality and with workers’ rights.  But he also said the campaign for those goals can’t wait until 2016.   Otherwise, the “downward spiral toward plutocracy” will continue, he warned.

“With the power and the resources we possess, we must imagine and create a different future, a greater future, a future worthy of our country and its people,” Trumka declared.

“So as we go into the 2014 elections, we have to talk about taking the bold steps to build this different and better future for all Americans –  a future where our country values work, where employers pay workers more when we are more productive, and where we make the investments that keep making our country more productive.

“And in 2014 we have to be clear about the causes of radical inequality, clear about who gains and who loses when real wages fall.  Most of all, we have to be clear that we are a movement to secure an economic future for all of us – that we are about majoritarian politics, not charity.   If we fudge these things, we open the door for Republicans to play the only card they really have to defend radical inequality: The race card.

“Instead of fudging things, we need clear explanations and bold steps toward a different and better future,” he stated.

That includes raising the minimum wage, remeasuring the economy so the emphasis is on raising workers’ wages and not on gross domestic product, ensuring the right to organize and bargain for all workers – union and non-union, employee, temp or independent contractor – enacting laws to free college students of debt and investing $250 billion yearly in infrastructure for the next 15 years.   The emphasis would be on green infrastructure, he said.

“Finally, we cannot move forward if we don’t stop the legalized oppression of communities of color – the mass deportations of immigrant families, and mass incarceration of so many of our young people of color.  Deportations and mass incarceration hold wages down for all of America’s workers, not just those who find themselves in our prisons and detention centers,” Trumka said.

“Each of these ideas is big.  But they are within our power – the power of the people in this room — to make real.  Why do we have a Democracy Alliance?  Not simply to plan to win this critical 2014 election, but to plan to win a better future for our country, for our democracy.  And remember, this is something we can do, but only if we act together,” he concluded.

-PAI