by Cynthia McCabe | October 02, 2011
Women's Conference attendees applaud during the keynote address by Sec.-Treas. Lee Saunders. (Photo by Luis Gomez)
MILWAUKEE, WIS. – AFSCME Sec.-Treas. Lee Saunders had powerful news Saturday for National Women’s Conference attendees. A judge on Friday ruled that Milwaukee officials were violating workers’ rights, and on the same day in Florida, a state circuit court ruled a prison privatization scheme unconstitutional.
“AFSCME has stood up wherever we were under attack, wherever our rights were in danger, wherever we needed to remind those in power that they will never silence our voices,” Saunders said as the over 900 women in attendance rose to their feet to celebrate the victories.
Such victories must inspire in them relentless activism on behalf of their families, their union sisters and brothers and the American worker, Saunders said. Legislative battles in the month ahead will require their energy here in Wisconsin, in Ohio, New Jersey, Michigan, Florida, New York, Iowa, Puerto Rico and anywhere else that right-wing governors are targeting the middle class.
The National Women’s Conference focuses this year on preparing members for those fights, and readies them in an extensive series of workshops for leadership back home. Women make up 56 percent of AFSCME’s membership and the union’s activists can be a powerful force in the political landscape.
That was apparent during the “Women’s Voices from the Frontlines” panel, as activists from Ohio, Minnesota, Connecticut and Pennsylvania described how they strategically fought back toxic legislation pouring out of their state legislatures.
Attendees rose and cheered for Kathy Stewart of OCSEA as she outlined how Ohio activists fought to get Senate Bill 5 – the corporate-backed bill revoking collective bargaining and other employee rights – on the Nov. 8 ballot for a citizen veto. Only 231,147 signatures were required by state law to put the issue on the ballot, so when a semi-truck rolled into Columbus carrying 1.3 million signatures, it sent a stunning message to opponents of the state’s workers, as well as anti-worker politicians nationwide.
“They might have outspent us by millions,” Stewart said. But “a fight with AFSCME is a battle that they will never forget.”