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UE Forward 2000
64th National UE Convention

Special Issue

The 64th Annual UE National Convention

Previous • Next

Opening Doors for Democracy

Hovis Speaks to Challenges of Democracy

Organizing: Bringing Change to the Job

'Build This Union!' Kingsley Urges Delegates

Adopt Collective Bargaining Goals

Delegates Endorse Militant Shop Actions

Fighting Hate is a Union Responsibility

Union Heroes Combat Closings

'Labor's Greatest Challenge Comes From Within' — Fletcher

'The Economy Should Benefit Workers For a Change' — Sanders

Getting Global About Labor Solidarity

Ten Years Stronger — Zenroren

Convention Photo


Convention Information

UE Policy

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64th Annual UE Convention
Bill Fletcher:
'Labor's Greatest
Challenge Comes
From Within'

The Assistant to the President of the AFL-CIO talks about what it will take to revitalize the labor movement.


Bill Fletcher

Bill Fletcher

The Assistant to the President of the AFL-CIO
came to the UE Convention in August with a
message which delegates understood well.

"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 capital’s 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 women’s 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:

  • Anti-racist/anti-sexist. "The key point in any struggle is to know who are your friends and who are enemies," Fletcher said. He counseled education on how divide and conquer works — and how to turn the tables on those who benefit from our divisions.

  • 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 politicians accountable."

  • 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 "visionary project."

  • 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?"

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