In an electrifying address that had Convention delegates on their feet and cheering repeatedly, the Rev. Dr. William Barber on Thursday underscored a message of coalition building and solidarity with references pulled from the civil rights and labor movements, as well as Scripture.
“We are all trade unionists. We are all civil rights activists. And it’s about time for all of us to get together and organize America like never before! It’s time to say to America, ‘We will not turn back now!’” he declared.
The Rev. Dr. Barber, pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina, and president of the North Carolina NAACP, is the architect of the Moral Mondays-Forward Together movement that began in North Carolina and is spreading across the nation. He charged that political extremists, backed by corporate billionaires like the Koch brothers, are pushing “an immoral agenda” that includes denying rights to workers, immigrants, women, African Americans, the LGBTQ community and others.
“And all these agendas intersect because all the same people fighting labor rights are fighting civil rights. So if they are together, by God, we ought to get together and fight them back!”
Working with allies is a winning strategy, President Saunders told delegates, pointing to the immense challenges we face. “The people who are trying to take out our union have a lot of money. That’s where they get their power,” he said. “But for workers like us, we get our power through solidarity. Solidarity with our union sisters and brothers, but also with a broad coalition of workers, retirees, students, clergy, community groups and even business owners who believe every worker deserves respect and dignity.”
The power of alliances with community organizations was demonstrated in an address by Barb Kalbach, board president of the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. Her fight with corporate-backed forces began with a personal fight to preserve her fourth-generation family farmer way of life.
But her fight is also AFSCME’s fight, she said. “What’s happening in farms is happening to you, too,” she said. It’s a “deliberate plan” by corporations and billionaires to “enhance their power in order to generate more profits,” she said. Fighting back “will take all of us pulling together, but when we’re done, family farms will then be passed to a new generation,” and we will have an economy “that values all of our public-sector workers.”
Paul Moist, president of our sister union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), offered his union’s support for AFSCME Michigan Council 25 in its fight against privatization of water services. He and members of his union will march over the Ambassador Bridge that connects Detroit and Canada next week.
The march is to show solidarity with AFSCME in opposing Detroit’s decision to turn off the taps to thousands for failure to pay their bills, and also to oppose privatization of the city’s public service jobs and to support the municipal retirees, who are faced with cuts to their benefits because of the city’s bankruptcy.
Among the successful member and ally campaigns showcased was one launched two years ago by New York’s Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA)/AFSCME Local 1000, which joined forces with New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, a statewide coalition of more than 130 community and consumer-based faith, labor, environmental, human services and other groups, to stop a planned downsizing of the State University of New York Health Science Center at Brooklyn (SUNY).
“Two years ago, mismanagement and budget cuts led the state to question our hospital’s mission and explore outsourcing its services,” said CSEA Region 2 Pres. Lester Crockett. “For us, this wasn’t just an attack on our jobs; it was an attack on patient care, our community and a proud New York institution.”
Together, CSEA and New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness put up a fight that made the difference. Crockett said hospital staff joined patients and preachers to make public demonstrations to save the institution.
The state backed down and “threats of cuts, outsourcing and closings stopped,” Crockett said.
Describing a successful campaign to raise the minimum wage in Minnesota, Dennis Frasier, a member of Council 5’s executive board, was joined by Kris Jacobs, executive director of the Jobs Now Coalition. Working together, they were able to get lawmakers to raise the state’s minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2016.
AFSCME’s efforts to create a Medical Interpreters program in California were also highlighted during the program. Carlos Garcia, an interpreter and a member of UDW Homecare Providers/AFSCME Local 3930 explained how the union expanded its reach with the help of allies.
“To ensure quality of care and communication between health care providers and patients, the members joined forces with more than 40 organizations statewide including the Korean American Senior Association of San Diego County,” Garcia said.
Delegates approved 29 resolutions, including support for comprehensive immigration reform and the Dream Act, which would provide an avenue for undocumented immigrants to attend college. Maricruz Manzanarez, an executive board member of Local 3299 in California, shared her family’s story of struggle to stay together and achieve their American Dream.
“No matter your politics; no matter your birthplace; we are all human,” she said. “And the human dignities of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness have no boundaries.”