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Energized for the Fight

Even in the face of short-term defeats, AFSCME sisters and brothers have been resilient.

By Sec.-Treas. Lee A. Saunders
Sec.-Treas. Saunders
Ready for Action | Sec.-Treas. Lee A. Saunders addresses attendees of AFSCME’s Public Safety Congress in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Luis Goméz)

Since the attacks on AFSCME members began, I’ve traveled coast to coast to stand with the social workers, corrections officers, nurses and school bus drivers of our union. I’ve seen us respond with energy, determination and, above all, the optimism that comes from believing that together, we can win.

We understand how difficult these battles are. Yet even in the face of the short-term defeats that have come our way, we have been resilient. Our sisters’ and brothers’ strength has inspired not just members of our union, and not just other labor movement activists, but also workers throughout our nation who, until now, have felt ignored and demoralized.

Concern About the Future
Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve seen members of our AFSCME family get angry — but anger has stoked activism and made us want to fight back. It also inspired members to get their friends and neighbors involved and to bring other activists and organizations onto the frontlines. We’ve built strong coalitions in every place we’re under attack, because people now understand that it’s not just union members or workers in state and local governments whose security is threatened; the American dream itself is at risk.

I was in New York City this past spring to protest the mayor’s drastic proposal for child care cuts. During the rally, a District Council 1707 member said to me, “This is not about our jobs. This is about what happens to these children. If we don’t take care of our kids, what does that say about us?” It was a simple statement — but it spoke volumes about this sister’s concern for the future.

Outpouring of Support
When I was in Madison, Wis., I was astounded by the outpouring of support for our members, who are the backbone of every community. Union members, of course, came out in droves — including police officers and firefighters who were exempted from the worst parts of the governor’s anti-union law, but stood with us nonetheless. Even more remarkable, however, were the students, retirees, farmers and environmentalists who joined us.

In this tough year, AFSCME has actually grown stronger. These fights focused us on what we do well, and what we can do better. For instance, we have partnered with affiliates, not only sending financial help, but developing plans of action and committing other resources to help execute those plans.

Here are a few other examples:

  • We’ve also created new tools, such as legislative hotlines through which AFSCME members placed nearly 100,000 calls.
  • We invested in an aggressive Facebook campaign to defeat a paycheck deception bill. More than 850,000 people saw the campaign, and whether they were Democrats, Republicans or Independents, many of them liked what we had to say.
  • Through the new Faces and Voices program, rank-and-file members are trained as spokespersons, using their personal stories and facts from their home states to speak up for public services and workers’ rights. Paul Brewer, a Council 79 member, said the training helped him get a letter-to-the-editor published and deliver a clear, succinct message in a television interview.

Pull Together
There’s no doubt these are challenging times. And it looks as though things will not get easier anytime soon. But in these kinds of times, you face a choice: Hope that the same old tactics will result in victory, or pull together and fight back with new energy and new strategies. Our union has made the right decision. 

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