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66th UE Annual National Convention

66th Annual
UE National

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Budget Review,

SEPTEMBER 18, 2001
Jump to Tuesday Afternoon Session

Discussion resumed on the political action resolution, which drew comments from Sue Smock, Local 506, Lester Koch, Local 112, Mary Stewart, Local 618, John Thompson, Local 690, and Jennifer Sherer, Local 896. The resolution was adopted.

For the second consecutive convention General Secretary-Treasurer Bob Clark gave a detailed slide presentation on the union’s finances. He noted that last year for first time delegates voted on a budget. The national union has cut expenses again in the past year and staff have "stepped up" and taken on additional work. "On Wednesday your GEB, officers and Constitution Committee will ask you to vote on a plan that will take us into the future. This slide show will show you that we are capable of staying within a budget," Clark said.

"Budget Review for Fiscal Year 2001" revealed that actual income failed to equal projections, due to layoffs and plant closings. The presentation indicated that expenses came in on target in most areas and below projections overall, which drew a round of applause. Clark reminded delegates that compensation represents 89% of the total budget. "There’s not a lot of wiggle room," he said.

The exciting possibilities of progressive change came through clearly in the remarks of Bertha Lujan. For many years a national coordinator of the Authentic Labor Front and a leader of the fight against NAFTA, Lujan is now chief financial oversight officer of Mexico City’s government. The Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) defeated the entrenched Institutionalized Revolutionary Party (PRI) for control of Mexico City in 1998, and last year again beat the PRI as a third, conservative party beat the PRI on the federal level. The PRI had run Mexico, and Mexico City, for more than 70 years. Not only do Lujan and other members of the new administration face the challenge of providing basic services to one of the world’s largest cities, they must also confront — and undo — seven decades of corruption and anti-democratic practices.

Lujan was invited to join the government because the FAT — like UE — has a reputation of honesty and democratic practices and would contribute to the new administration’s credibility. The government has also recruited hundreds of other union members and activists from citizens’ organizations.

The city government hopes to dedicate much of the city’s resources to social programs for the most vulnerable in society, Lujan said. The government is involving citizens with the formation of almost 1,500 neighborhood committees that do community work and coordinate social programs, the controller said. She is developing a program of citizen controllers — something like UE trustees — to have a say about the use of public funds.

Lujan said her administration has raised the wages of city workers above the federal government’s recommendations, and has instituted two significant labor law reforms — secret-ballot voting in union elections and a public registry of union contracts (to give workers a chance to see what’s in the contracts governing their wages and working conditions). This administration is creating new opportunities for working people to be involved in government, to open the government to the people, she said.

"Although we are the government functionaries today, we fought yesterday from the trenches of Mexico’s civil society," Lujan said. "We have not given up our banners. Rather, we continue to lift them from new positions and with different possibilities and, we believe, better positions from new fields."

Delegates then attended workshops in the morning and afternoon on a variety of topics. In the morning: defined benefit plans, indoor air quality and ventilation, collective bargaining, inside strategies, trade. Afternoon: 401(k) savings plans, carpal tunnel, actual bargaining, inside strategies, trade.

SEPTEMBER 18, 2001

In the afternoon the Convention was addressed by Leo Girard, the new international president of the United Steelworkers of America. This was his first trip outside of the Steelworkers’ headquarters since the terrorist attack of September 11. "Like so many of us," the union officer said he hadn’t "quite recovered from the events of last week." This is a time of reflection; his conclusion is that "more than ever" society needs the labor movement and its values, its sisterhood and brotherhood. He read the Steelworkers’ statement on the attack, which concluded with the observation of Martin Luther King that "returning hate with hate only multiplies hate."

No one called Bill Gates or Jack Welch for direction in the wake of the tragedy; instead the calls for help went to union halls, Girard said. We’ve been told government doesn’t matter, but it’s government workers and unionized workers who are getting New York back on its feet.

Girard reported on a meeting with the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune, in response to an editorial justifying purchase of steel at the lowest possible price, regardless of origin. After listening to the board’s explanation, Girard said he concluded that what they were saying is that they "stand for prison labor, child labor, exploited labor, dirty air, dirty water." That would produce the lowest-cost consumer goods.

The Free Trade Area of the Americas is not about trade but about investments, "finding safe havens for capital," where companies like GM, Ford and GE can operate with the least possible interference. If the drafters of these trade deals "can write an agreement about something as fuzzy as intellectual property rights," he asked, why not rules protecting environment rights, children, workers? The answer is that those at the table are not there to advance living standards and democracy, the USWA president said. He blasted the corporations’ lack of loyalty to their nation, quoting Welch’s infamous "factory on a barge" statement.

Faced with membership losses of 2% every year, the USWA instituted a dues increase of one penny an hour in 1999 and a second penny in 2000 to generate funds dedicated to organizing. Combined with funds already assigned to organizing, this created an organizing budget of $40 million. Has the Steelworkers’ organizing been successful? No, Girard said, because the union is not growing — that is, bringing in more members than have been lost to layoffs and closures.

Our forefathers in the labor movement were shot at, railroaded, blacklisted and redbaited to build today’s unions, Girard said. "It’s this generation’s time," to maintain unions, to fight off privatization of Social Security and preserve jobs, he said.

The USWA president concluded by telling UE delegates that he looked forward to working with their union in future projects. He received a standing ovation.

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