AFSCME Convention Lauds Organizing Wins, Strikes Defiant Note Vs. Right Wingers

CHICAGO–Leaders and delegates to AFSCME’s convention in Chicago lauded the union’s organizing wins – which brought it more than 92,000 new members – while striking a defiant note against the Right Wingers who menace those gains, and the union overall.

That’s because tens of thousands of the new members are state-paid home health care givers.  The anti-union anti-worker National Right to Work Committee funded a successful U.S. Supreme Court case from Illinois, calling such home care workers “partial public workers.”  The court said the workers can be “free riders” who don’t have to pay for benefits of unionization.

The union had set a 50,000-person organizing goal at its last leadership summit.  It added 92,155 members, re-elected President Lee Saunders said in his keynote address.

“Today, we are not just ‘50,000 Stronger.’  We are 92,155 stronger!  92,000 voices stronger!  92,000 fighters stronger!  92,000 warriors stronger!” Saunders declared as delegates cheered. And further organizing, he added in the mid-July speech, will counter the impact of the High Court’s ruling in Harris vs. Quinn, the Illinois home-care providers case.

“Determined face-to-face organizing is the best antidote for the gathering storm of attacks against public employees.  That power to endure and overcome” is Saunders’ challenge to his union, the largest in the AFL-CIO.

“You see, we know what it means to be caught in a storm.  We understand what it means to be tossed on rough seas.  Getting through the storm takes not only courage, but perspective. You have to focus on what you’re going through, yet envision where you want to be,” he added.

“Our opponents want to deplete the labor movement of resources, steal our power, silence our voices and cripple us,” Saunders said. “They are even undercutting the most fundamental right we have as Americans -– the right to vote.”

That refers to so-called “voter ID” laws, pushed by the Radical Right and its Republican lawmakers in various states.  The laws disenfranchise African-Americans such as Saunders, women, students, other minorities, the elderly and workers.

Individual delegates took the same tack.  “The (Quinn) lawsuit was funded by billionaires.  They wanted us to lose our union,” California home care worker Viviana Saavedra told her convention colleagues. “But AFSCME was prepared for this assault.”

AFSCME and other public worker unions face concerted attacks from the well-funded Radical Right.  Besides court rulings, Right Wing GOP governors and legislatures have stripped public workers of collective bargaining rights, trashed teacher tenure and hacked at pay and pensions. That led AFSCME delegates to concentrate even more on political activism plans than the union already does.  Seminars at the convention included sessions on canvassing, countering Right Wing dogma and how to run for political office.