What does political power look like? That was the question at the center of Tuesday’s special program, Building Political and Legislative Power. The answer, said activists engaged in AFSCME battles to preserve pension security, prevent “paycheck deception” and elect worker-friendly legislators, is member commitment and activism.
A home care provider when she joined the union, keynote speaker Sec.-Treas. Laura Reyes said taking that first step toward solidarity with other providers made a huge difference in her life. “When I found my UDW sisters and brothers, I was literally saved,” she said, referring to United Domestic Workers of America/AFSCME Local 3930. “We have all made that same choice! When I did, my life began to change.”
She said “we must lead others” to our union “so they too can lead, and benefit from employment possibilities unhindered by those who oppose our policies. Unlimited by those who oppose our goals of equality, and unrestricted by those who stand in the way of decency for all American workers. As we help them, they in turn empower us, and together we achieve justice for every working American family across this great nation.”
One way to gain that justice, she said, is by supporting AFSCME’s political action program, PEOPLE. She called it “our solution to getting out the vote and electing the right politicians” such as Florida gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist and Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke, both of whom later addressed the delegates.
Florida Council 79 Pres. Jeanette Wynn, also an International vice president, introduced Crist as “the people’s governor.” Crist, Florida’s governor from 2007-2011, is seeking AFSCME’s help to defeat Gov. Rick Scott, whom he described as “out of touch” with the middle class.
“When I was governor before, it was never about right versus left,” Crist said. “It was about right versus wrong. That’s why I refused to lower retirement programs for state employees,” and also why he vetoed bills that would have cut benefits for teachers and eliminated tenure.
In Wisconsin, Burke is running this year to unseat Gov. Scott Walker, who signed legislation in 2011 that revoked the collective bargaining rights of 200,000 Wisconsin public service employees, including more than 60,000 AFSCME members. As she stood before the Convention, more than 100 Wisconsin AFSCME members surrounded her and cheered.
“I’m fighting for people who are making the minimum wage,” Burke said.
“I’m fighting for women who don’t want politicians messing with our health care decisions ... and I am fighting for home care, health care and child care workers to ensure that they have a voice. And I am fighting for workers who were disrespected with the loss of collective bargaining.”
Activists from several states addressed the Con- vention, describing how their councils and locals won political fights thanks to the power of committed members. In Colorado, members of Council 76 fought efforts to suppress the vote of young people, the elderly, people living in rural areas and those with disabilities in a brazen effort to skew the election toward anti-worker candidates.