The opening of the 66th UE National Convention was like none of the previous sixty-five. As the nation mourned for the victims of the devastating terrorist attacks of the preceding Tuesday, UE delegates and leaders also expressed their sorrow, anger, and hopes for peace.
Director of Organization Bob Kingsley read a short, powerful statement expressing union members’ "sense of loss and violation, despair and outrage." The statement, adopted on Friday by the union’s General Executive Board, demands that the perpetrators be brought to justice. It also declares that "Verbal slurs and physical assaults against our Arab-American and Islamic neighbors and co-workers must be countered, condemned and stopped." The greatest memorial to the slain, said the UE statement, "will be a world of peace, tolerance and understanding, underscored by the solidarity of working people" (full text).
With those words read, General Secretary-Treasurer Bob Clark proceeded through the hall with a wreath, which he placed on the convention stage. The wreath will be kept their throughout the convention, as a continual reminder of union members’ grief.
General President John Hovis then asked for a moment of silence for the victims and their families.
It was only then that the Convention got underway according to what could be considered a "normal" agenda — with everyone recognizing that these were in no way normal circumstances.
Nicole Coser, a student at the University of Pittsburgh, delivered a heart-felt and resonant rendition of the National Anthem.
RESPONSE MUST BE
Father Jack O’Malley, the official labor chaplain of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, expressed his appreciation at being with "like-minded" people in these trying and difficult days. "Our response to this slaughter of innocent people must be measured with justice," Father O’Malley said. He offered a prayer that spoke of "real heroes" in a reality that seems like a bad dream, that asked for greater understanding in this period of crisis, of building "a world of justice and peace."
General Vice President John Lambiase extended to delegates a welcome to District Six on behalf of the 19 locals in western Pennsylvania, western New York and West Virginia — including the newest UE local. The staff of the Western Pennsylvania School for the Blind in Pittsburgh voted last week to affiliate to UE as Local 613.
UE Cartoonist Gary Huck talked about the pioneering work of his predecessor, Fred Wright, in introducing a recently completed agitational animation video which proclaims labor’s rebirth.
UE: 'IT'S AN IDEOLOGY'
President Hovis opened his address to the convention by declaring, "In tragic times like these, I can think of no better words to express my feelings than those of Mother Jones: ‘pray for the dead, fight like hell for the living!’" In his remarks the veteran union leader described the qualities that make UE unique, effective and worth fighting for: union members taking responsibility, getting involved, running their own union. UE, he said, is more than a union, it’s an ideology: "the belief that working people should have the opportunity to join an organization that gives them the ability to set their own agenda and determine their own destiny."
President Hovis outlined the difficulties the union faces today in "advancing a worker-friendly political and economic agenda," especially the effort by politicians and Wall Street to privatize Social Security and expand NAFTA and the continuing corporate mergers, sales, bankruptcies and plant closings. He blasted the "sleazy white collar crooks and investment scheme profiteers" behind plant closings and layoffs.
The tragic events of Sept. 11 threaten an already weak economy, said the UE leader, who offered his advice for repairing a damaged economy — a living wage and labor law reform, to give real bargaining power to workers.
UE continues to give a high priority to organizing, and gives more time and resources to organizing than most unions, Hovis said. Our union does have the answers with regard to collective bargaining — UE members generally do better than the members of other unions. "Business unionism produces minimal results because that’s all they’re after," the president said. As the remaining voice for democratic, rank-and-file unionism, UE has a leadership role to fill. Progress in all areas of the union’s work will depend on ensuring the union’s financial stability. UE leaders believe the financial plan before the convention "represents a balance between curtailing deficit spending on one hand and maintaining the appropriate level of staff, union programs and membership services on the other."
'WHY IT'S WORTH FIGHTING FOR'
The nature of the discussion makes UE stand out, Hovis said. "There’s not another union in country that would dare to go to the members with these issues, especially a proposal for a substantial per capita increase" — or put the issue to a vote. That is another indication of what UE is all about, he said — "and why it is worth fighting for."
The Convention then turned to the organization of the committees that do much of the union’s business.
The Rules and Order Committee, convened by Joyce Clayborne, District Seven and Doug Whitcomb, District Two, prepared the rules for the convention. These were presented to the Convention by Lynda Leech, Local 618, and Gerry LaValley, Local 274. The Committee was dismissed with thanks of the Convention.
General Secretary-Treasurer Bob Clark read the first partial credentials report. Clark then reviewed the Convention agenda. With the Convention recess, committees met during the afternoon and evening: Organizing, Resolutions, Constitution, Policy Action, Publicity and Education.
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