The Assistant to the President of the AFL-CIO
"The U.S. trade union movement is paying the price for being asleep at the switch," Bill Fletcher told the convention. "It is paying the price for years of self-deception as to its own supposed power and influence."
To regain its vitality, to build power for workers, to fight and win, organized labor must confront the reality of the economic system, suggested Fletcher, formerly AFL-CIO education director.
Working-class power in the U.S. has been restricted by repression and by capitals ability to obscure the basic reality of the system, he proposed.
Capital has obscured the reality that ours is a class system, in which "a relatively small number of people control the way that things are produced, distributed and financed," Fletcher observed.
Issues of class in the U.S. are masked by race and gender, Fletcher contended. Some sections of the working class are led to believe they can work out special arrangements with the powers that be. Racism and sexism are prevalent even in good economic times, he said, but "in bad times, they become virulent."
During the de-industrialization of the 1980s, when "the working class was getting its collective rear kicked from one end of this country to the other," one should have expected more fight back, Fletcher suggested. Instead, there were assaults on affirmative action, gay bashing, attacks on immigrants and womens rights.
"Think about it. When was the last time that an illegal immigrant closed down a steel mill or auto plant?" Fletcher asked. "When was the last time an illegal immigrant privatized a public hospital?"
The veteran trade unionist declared that for organized labor to re-emerge as a movement, it must talk about class and practice class politics. He spelled out for delegates what that would mean:
Speak for the working class.
The labor movement must advance the demands of the working class
issues such as shorter working hours, universal health care and
economic development and keep them in the public eye.
Working-class political agenda.
At present, Fletcher said, "organized labor is the mistress of
the politicians." Instead, he proposed, "we must have a
movement which advances the demands of the class and holds the
Organize the unorganized.
To achieve the same percentage of the workforce unions represented in
1955, we must organize some 20 million workers. "We must make
this a social crusade," Fletcher declared and union members
must be involved. The AFL-CIO representative congratulated UE on its
organizing efforts in North Carolina, which he described as a
Democracy. The cancers of union corruption and tyranny must removed, Fletcher said. The trade union movement must practice democracy consistently as it seeks to obtain democracy in society at large.
The greatest challenge to the labor movement comes from within, Fletcher said. "Are we capable of advancing working-class politics which truly speaks to social and economic justice? Are we capable of engaging our members and exciting them about the tasks awaiting us?"
Union Heroes Combat Closings <-
Home About UE Organize! Independent Unions
Search Site Guide What's New Contact UE