AFSCME’s Next Wave of Young Leaders Energized to Confront Challenges

by Clyde Weiss  |  July 11, 2011

Pres. McEntee
Pres. Gerald W. McEntee addressed attendees during the opening day of the 2011 Next Wave Conference. (Photo by Alex Jones)

More than 600 new and young AFSCME activists spent three days in Atlanta last weekend in a crash-course on union power. They learned about the threats facing working people and how preserving collective bargaining is an essential part of the Main Street Movement to restore workers’ rights and public services.

AFSCME’s second “Next Wave Conference” provided the activists with workshops to learn about the corporate-funded, right-wing attacks on working families and their unions, and how to fight back. They also developed their own leadership skills, and redoubled their commitment to build the union. The Next Wave is a five-year-old network of AFSCME members 35 and under.

Read more about AFSCME’s Next Wavers here.

AFSCME Pres. Gerald W. McEntee set the tone for the conference by citing the dire economic conditions that have left millions of Americans out of work. “Wall Street and corporate interests are trying to take advantage of the economic crisis,” he said. “They want to shut down unions like AFSCME. They don’t want us opposing their self-serving agenda and standing up for the interests of working men and women ….That’s why they want to destroy our right to collective bargaining.”

Panel discussion
Sec.-Treas. Lee Saunders, Next Waver Diamond Robertson and Rev. Al Sharpton participate in a panel discussion at the Next Wave Conference. (Photo by Alex Jones)

AFSCME Sec.-Treas. Lee Saunders spoke to the Next Wavers of the challenges that face them, including efforts to deny workers their basic right to collective bargaining. “Somebody’s got to confront these inequities,” he declared. “Somebody’s got to say, we have fought too hard and too long to let you steal our rights and our dignity! Somebody’s got to stand up and fight for the future!  And it’s got to be us. It’s got to be AFSCME. It’s got to be Next Wave.”

Next Wavers also rallied on July 9 at the state Capitol against Georgia’s recently passed anti-immigration law, HB 87, which creates new requirements for businesses to ensure that new hires are eligible to work in the U.S., among other provisions. (check out this CBS video report). Secretary-Treasurer Saunders and civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton, president and founder of the National Action Network, both spoke against the law during the rally.

Liz Shuler, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, addressed the Next Wavers. To win the fight against the “extreme right-wing politicians and their corporate funders,” she declared, “Next Wavers must continue to be the tip of the spear that carries us to victory,” and they “are the ones who will build a Main Street Movement around the belief that decent pay, fair treatment, job safety and health and retirement benefits are not too much to ask.”

Sarah Kamal
Egyptian democracy activist Sarah Kamal told Next Wave Conference attendees about the role social networks played in the struggle to end the Mubarak regime. (Photo by Alex Jones)

Other conference highlights included a panel discussion with Sarah Kamal, a democracy activist in Egypt who learned how Facebook and Twitter could be used to organize people. With that knowledge, she became part of the group that launched the democratic struggle earlier this year that ended the Mubarak regime.

Next Wavers also had a bit of extemporaneous fun. On the last day of the conference, during a presentation on building political strength through participation in AFSCME’s PEOPLE program, the serious tone of the conference gave way to a flash mob when approximately 20 attendees stood up to sing and dance to the song, “I Am Everyday People” by Sly & the Family Stone.  

The attendees also toured Atlanta’s civil rights landmarks, including the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. Dr. King lost his life in 1968 while supporting striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn., members of AFSCME Local 1733. The 1,300 workers recently were inducted into the U.S. Department of Labor’s “Labor Hall of Fame.”

See more photos from the conference in our Flickr gallery:

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