Shoulder-to-shoulder solidarity marks AFT convention

PITTSBURGH—Shoulder-to-shoulder solidarity among state and local government worker unions marked the Teachers’ convention in mid-July.


Joining AFT President Randi Weingarten on the stage in Pittsburgh’s convention center, and addressing thousands of AFT delegates, were the presidents of the other three largest state and local government worker unions: The Service Employees’ Mary Kay Henry, AFSCME’s Lee Saunders and the National Education Association’s Lily Eskelsen-Garcia.


All four big unions, along with many others ranging from the Teamsters to the Communications Workers to the Mine Workers to the Auto Workers to the Laborers, face an enormous threat to their finances and numbers, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court.


That threat is from the 5-man GOP-named majority’s ruling in the Janus case, making every single state and local government worker nationwide –- teachers, nurses, sanitation workers, public health workers and more — a potential “free rider,” eligible to use union services and protections without paying one red cent for them.


The object of the right-wingers who pushed and won the case: To “defund the left” and particularly organized labor, the biggest – and sometimes the only – obstacle to their hegemonic agenda.


Weingarten, Henry, Saunders and Eskelsen-Garcia made it clear that solidarity – and organizing – are the answers to the right-wing onslaught. “I’m a sixth-grade teacher from Utah who has 39 kids on rainy day recess,” Eskelsen-Garcia told AFT. “The Koch brothers” – rich anti-worker right wingers – “cannot scare me!”


“Despite their (the court’s) ruling and the predictions of some who tried to write labor’s obituary, our union is demonstrating labor’s strength, not weakness,” said Weingarten, whose union set a new membership record last year, at 1.71 million.


“Teachers from West Virginia, Oklahoma and other states shared success stories from their recent walkouts for the public schools their students deserve. The president of a union of college faculty shared that, just hours after Janus, the union received 238 membership applications — and they just kept coming. Scores of local unions proudly announced 100 percent of their members have recommitted to their union.”


That story is repeating itself all over the AFT and the other unions whose leaders spoke in Pittsburgh.


“Right-wing groups and their wealthy allies want us gone,” Weingarten said. “It’s part of their trifecta strategy: Suppress the vote, privatize public education and eliminate unions—the three ways working folks have any agency, any real power, in America.”


“A web of right-wing billionaires has spent millions of dollars on lawsuits and campaigns to try to pick off union members. The Mackinac Center, for example, with funding from the Koch brothers” – billionaire right-wing oilmen – “and Betsy DeVos, is spamming educators in nearly a dozen states on their taxpayer-funded school email accounts,” she noted.


DeVos, a virulent foe of public schools and teachers, is GOP President Donald Trump’s Education Secretary. And she’s a big GOP donor, using millions of her family’s Amway dollars.


“Dark-money groups are urging union members to ‘give yourself a raise’ by going it alone. The groups bankrolling these efforts, like the misnamed right-wing Freedom Foundation and the Walton Foundation, are the same groups that go after public employees’ pensions and fight for huge tax cuts for the rich that end up decimating education funding,” Weingarten said.


Getting out in the streets, as the teachers and staffers from both NEA and AFT did, is only one part of the answer to Janus, Weingarten told her delegates and guests. Re-enrolling members in their union is another.


And politics is the third – a big third – she said. But it needs partners. Indeed, one resolution delegates approved pledges such tighter co-operation, including, though the resolution did not explicitly say so, cooperation with the NEA, the larger of the nation’s two teachers’ unions.


“Our union cannot be an island,” Weingarten warned. “Engaging our members and involving community partners around issues that matter is the pathway to a better life for all Americans. And we know we must defend democracy and democratic norms. That’s what makes the 2018 elections so urgent.”


“We are a year and a half into the Trump presidency, and with the cruelty emanating from this White House, none of us can be silent. We have a president who attacks the press, (who) refuses to condemn white nationalism and calls neo-Nazis ‘very fine people.’”


Trump also “uses the power of his office to bully and harass people, describes immigrants as ‘animals,’ ‘rapists’ and ‘criminals,’ preys on women and rips children from their parents’ arms. And now Trump has nominated a Supreme Court justice who believes presidents should be neither subpoenaed nor indicted and favors eliminating protections for pre-existing conditions.”


“The 2018 elections are not simply a fight for fairness or for the policies we champion for working folks and their families. These elections won’t just determine whether Republicans or Democrats prevail, but whether cruelty or decency prevails. We must be a check and balance for our democracy and for a society that is safe, welcoming and sane. We are in a battle for the soul of our nation,” she declared.


The other union leaders sounded similar warnings. “Our four great unions enjoy indestructible bonds of solidarity,” Saunders told the AFT. “There is no daylight between us, not even an inch. And that’s never been more important than it is now.”

Source: PAI