Forging A Greater Political Voice For Working Families
February 25, 2003
America’s union movement confronts a political environment fundamentally altered since November 2002. Because of a handful of contested Senate races decided by slender margins in the mid-term elections, Republicans control both houses of Congress and the presidency for the first time in half a century. On Election Day, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act also took effect, changing the rules governing the flow of political money and the opportunities for political speech in ways unprecedented, unpredictable and—in several respects—harmful to working people and their unions. Meanwhile, the Help America Vote Act—election reform—has given new hope that when people vote, their ballots will be counted as they intended.
Since 1996, America’s union movement has directed itself as never before to informing and engaging union members and their families on issues and federal, state and local elections. We have succeeded in revitalizing labor’s political program by involving millions of union households, earning new respect from our allies and our adversaries alike and achieving significant results at the ballot box. All this has occurred while anti-union, right-wing politicians and groups have amassed massive resources to aid a relentless effort to assert control over all three branches of the national government, as well as statehouses, legislatures, city halls and the courts.
Control of the federal government by the current Republican leadership poses a daunting challenge to workers and their unions. Not only has the Bush Administration weakened worksite health and safety protections, failed to address pressing health care needs and made the tax code less fair to worker, it also has undertaken initiatives and made decisions aimed at undermining collective bargaining and the capacity of unions to afford workers an effective voice at work. The administration’s denial of organizing rights to tens of thousands of federal employees has sent a terrible signal to all employers. And the administration seems determined to impose onerous, expensive and intrusive new record-keeping and reporting requirements on unions, far in excess of anything ever suggested for corporations.
The union movement’s political program is the only national mass-based and democratically governed movement committed to promoting public policies that benefit working people and ordinary families. Government action that undermines the freedom of workers to organize unions or unduly impairs the organizations workers have formed to promote their welfare must be resisted both at the workplace and in the public arena.
Last year, the AFL-CIO General Board guaranteed stable, continuing funding of the Member Mobilization Fund through the 2005 AFL-CIO convention. It did so both as a matter of fairness to all AFL-CIO unions and as a meaningful devotion of resources for political action through and beyond the next presidential election. The AFL-CIO Executive Council now affirms the principles of the mobilization program and sets the following priorities until the last votes are cast in 2004:
First, we will register millions more members
of union households to vote, and we will
encourage and assist them in exercising that right so their share of the voting electorate
reaches its highest level in a generation.
Second, we will undertake active internal communication
on key issues and aggressive
public advocacy of a working families agenda in order to shape the legislative and
electoral environment in 2003 and 2004.
Third, beginning immediately, we will establish
a corps of volunteer union member
coordinators to lead a program of grassroots education and mobilization in every
organized workplace in the nation.
Fourth, earlier than ever before, we will train
and deploy the greatest number ever of
full-time field coordinators for Labor 2004.
Fifth, we will communicate with union households
in every manner, from worksite
conversations to home visits, from telephone calls to mail and from membership
meetings to the Internet. During every election cycle, we have established a new record
in the numbers and effectiveness of these contacts, and we will do so again in 2004.
Finally, we will continue to pursue Target
5000, the labor movement’s ongoing effort to
recruit and assist union members themselves to seek elective office from the town
council to Congress, and to encourage other union members and union political action
committees to help finance their campaigns.
If we achieve these goals, the union movement’s influence will reach as far as it can to advance the interests of working people and our nation. We will secure legislation that favors working family interests and elect enough working family candidates so that—whichever party controls the White House, Congress and state and local governments—working people win when legislation is enacted, government budgets are constructed and public policy is developed.
However, we recognize that in addition to mobilizing union households and making broad appeals to the public we must directly engage millions of people who have not been able to secure union representation. We need to embrace real opportunities to involve these workers, who share common concerns, interests and needs. This is particularly important in the new legal environment, which will impel a shift of resources and political activity from the national political parties to state and local parties, non-party organizations and citizen groups. We will undertake numerous initiatives to do so.
A new organization has been formed called The Partnership for America’s Families. The partnership plans to conduct an intensive campaign to mobilize massive numbers of voters outside labor’s ranks against the anti-worker, anti-union policies of the Bush Administration, and to support a pro-working families agenda. It will register, inform, engage and then turn out these voters by combining modern communications and targeting mechanisms with grassroots organizing. The partnership will apply the lessons we have learned in activating union households to our natural allies, especially African Americans, Latinos and working women. The partnership is ready to begin its work now. The AFL-CIO will support this effort and encourages its affiliates to do so as well.
The labor movement intends, through both proven means and new initiatives, to restore government that reflects the aspirations of working people and respects their contributions. We commence this effort now with all our vigor, might and creativity.