Fraternal address to Congress from the AFL-CIO

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Fraternal address to Congress from the AFL-CIO

Speech at Congress 2006 by Bill Lucy, Executive Council member of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations

Congress President: I now want to welcome to the rostrum a good friend of the TUC and the most senior black trade unionist in America, Bill Lucy, a fraternal delegate from the AFL/CIO. Bill is the Secretary Treasurer of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees as well as being a member of the AFL/CIO Executive Council, and chairs the International Committee. He founded and leads the coalition of black trade unionists, led the Free South Africa Movement in the USA in the 1980s, and is past President of the Public Services International.

Bill, it will be a real pleasure to hear your address this morning, and I now invite you to address Congress.

Bill Lucy: Thank you so much, Gloria, for that kind and generous introduction. You made me sound so important I can hardly wait to hear what I have to say. Let me join with every colleague in this Congress and congratulate you, Gloria, on your leadership of the TUC during your term of office, and before, and what you will do after office; my union, AFSCME, and yours, UNISON, has enjoyed a very close relationship for many many years. Congratulations to Brendan for his steady and courageous leadership during these very difficult and trying times.

Sisters and brothers, I bring you greetings in solidarity from President, John Sweeney of the AFL/CIO, Secretary Treasurer Richard Trumka, Executive Vice President, Linda Chavez-Thompson, and the entire Executive Council of the AFL/CIO. We thank you for 112 years of friendship in solidarity between our two federations. While we have many things to thank you for, on a practical matter most recently we were grateful for the ongoing assistance of the TUC, and Prospect and the Civil Service Union, in helping us to organise the staff at the British Embassy and Consulate in the United States. That case is ongoing before the ILO Committee on freedom of association. The united steelworkers and the AFL/CIO are resolved to fight along with the Transport and General Workers' Union against Imery's plan to move British production. Finally, along with the TUC and GMB we are letting the Asdas and Wal-Marts of the world know that when they take on one of us they take on both of us.

Over the past 112 years the AFL/CIO and the TUC have indeed shared tears as well as solidarity. On the fifth anniversary of the September 11th attacks we will never forget your immediate support, as was the case last year when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf region. We felt your grief over a year ago on July 7th when terrorists struck at innocent citizens of London. Importantly, we also share a broader vision and many of the same struggles, be it the effects of globalisation, the outsourcing of jobs as you now face in the NHS, threats to our pension system, public services, education, healthcare, creating decent jobs for citizens of our communities and our countries, defending the rights of immigrant workers, striving for equality at the workplace, and so much more. We are fighting the same battles in the USA, to fight for equality at the workplace, to defend the rights of migrant workers, and to struggle to eliminate racism and discrimination is a fundamental part of labour's role and responsibility.

At the global level where so many of these issues must be confronted, after nearly a century of political and ideological division we are overcoming separation and division for the greater good, creating a strong and unified global trade union movement. Together we will make this unification an historic event for the 21st century. Working closely with the TUC and with our other global union partners in the International Trade Union Confederation, otherwise to be known as Unions International, we have the possibility of creating, as Gordon Brown said last night, a globalisation that serves the common good, ending poverty, racism, and all forms of discrimination, eliminating child labour, tackling the multinational giants, bringing global employers to a global bargaining table, defeating the old liberal right wing governments, and reversing the privatised and deregulated agenda for the World Bank and the IMF. The creation of Unions International, the AFL/CIO has repeatedly and forcedly underscored as a top priority making freedom of association and the right to join a union and collective bargaining a reality for workers everywhere.

We are especially pleased to be able to report that in this past year we have made outstanding progress on organising. Four of our affiliates, auto, teachers, communication workers, and my own union, have collectively allocated an additional $100m specifically for organising activities. Over the last three years 50,000 heavy manufacturing workers have been organised by the United Auto Workers, mainly in the southern part of the United States, communication workers recently organised some 18,000 high-tech workers in just 10 months bringing the total to 40,000 at Signal & Wireless, and our new partnership with the largest independent teachers union in the US, the National Education Association, will allow for affiliates of the NEA to join the AFL/CIO at local levels.

This is all happening in spite of the most deceptive and deceitful administration in the history of our movement. We will win in spite of the difficulties and bring the American labour movement into its rightful role in the battle for change. The administration that we serve under, I have to tell you, is the worst administration in the history of organised labour in our country and we as organised labour should not be reluctant to say so, the Bush administration is devastating to the interests of workers across the world.

Contrary to what you may have heard, the great issues that are on the minds of the American workers are not gay marriage or prayer in school. Most people believe, and rightly so, that if you do not want a gay marriage do not have one, and so far as the issue of prayer in school, as long as students are taught algebra and trigonometry there will be prayer in school. The issues that concern our voters are the government's deception in getting the world engaged in a war of choice rather than pursuing the threat that was real in Afghanistan. The issues on voters' minds is the state of the household economics of millions of workers, the plight of millions of our senior citizens, the education futures for all of our children, the absence of healthcare for 45 million Americans, the immoral and obscene levels of pay and benefits for CEOs of corporate America, the loss of three million good paying jobs since this president came into office.

Today, we are preparing for a movement for the greatest contest to win the hearts and minds of the American voter that has ever taken place. As we do so, we do so remembering just a few short years ago that for eight years we enjoyed the longest economic expansion in 60 years. Just six years ago our nation and the world looked very different, family income was up, net spendable income was up, home ownership was at an all-time high, 22 million new jobs were created in the American economy, unemployment was 3.7%, the lowest in 50 years, crime had declined for five consecutive years, bankruptcies both business and personal were declining year after year, poverty was decreasing and people once again could see some light at the end of their economic tunnel. The national budget was balanced for the first time in decades and we had on hand a $236bn surplus and we were paying down the national debt of America.

If we look at income, what does the economy look like now under the Bush administration? Income is stagnant or declining, unemployment stands at 7% while they claim 4.7%, bankruptcies are running at record levels personal and small businesses, foreclosures are escalating, people are simply walking away from homes they can no longer afford, crime is on the rise for five consecutive years, poverty is on the increase, 1.7 million people have dropped out of the middle-class into poverty in three short years. College tuition is escalating beyond the reach of many people; 3.5 million jobs have gone, 2.5 million in manufacturing alone; 850,000 federal jobs downsized or privatised. Our federal budget of $477bn is destined to go even higher if we remain in Iraq and Afghanistan. All of these setbacks have been attributed to September 11th 2001. Let me remind this Congress that on September 10th 2001 we had already lost 900,000 jobs from the economy, not because of terrorism but because of bad economic policy.

Albert Einstein once said as he described an optimist, 'someone who does the same thing over and over and expects a different result.' I would describe the potential victim as someone who knows that an axe will harm them and does nothing to protect themselves. We must not, either you or ourselves in the American labour movement, allow our industries and our jobs to continue to be dealt away like cards in a game of draw poker. We must unite and fight. We must do what commonsense dictates. We must fight back and we intend to fight back against the Bush administration with every resource that the American labour movement has. We must fight back against an administration that will allow our industries just to die off. We must fight back against an administration too blind to see that the value of a strong industrial manufacturing sector is good for our nation and the world. We must fight back against an administration that rewards the already rich and wealthy at the expense of working people. We must put an end to this policy of socialism for the rich and wealthy and free enterprise for workers and the poor. We have to bring this to a halt as quickly as possible. We must find a way to bring to an end this dreadful war of choice which has cost the lives of the best and the brightest of our allies and ourselves. Iraq was not a war necessary, it was a war of choice, what I choose to call the 'Haliburton war'. We must bring this to an end as quickly as possible and bring our military troops home as soon as possible.

On the domestic front just a few weeks ago President Bush had the nerve to say that the American economy is solid and strong, and creates a real benefit for American workers and families. I have to ask the question, what planet is he on, or even better yet, what is he on! Workers know that they are not benefiting from the wealth that they have helped to create. That is why the latest polling shows that most voters are going to be voting on their pocketbooks in November, and that is good for us. During this critical mid-year election the AFL/CIO is making the largest effort in history in an off-year election. We will spend a record $40 million with the vast majority of that money going to our grassroots mobilisation efforts, not campaign contributions to individual candidates.

Sisters and brothers, we must build upon our collective power and mobilise united as never before. Many of you are aware that several unions left the AFL/CIO within the past year. We want you to know that for us in the US, and for workers everywhere, a divided movement weak in worker unity is more than tragic. As we create a unified movement at the global level, I want you to know that in the AFL/CIO we are deeply committed to doing everything possible to bring the American labour movement back together. This is not the first time we have been separated; we will come back together.

In concluding, sisters and brothers, I want to leave you with some thoughts from the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As you may know, he was assassinated in 1968 while working in support of an AFSCME sanitation strike in my home town of Memphis Tennessee. I worked very closely with Dr. King and in these very difficult times when millions of workers around the world are struggling just to survive daily existence, I am inspired by one of his letters from the Birmingham jail in 1963. Dr. King wrote: 'Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed,' and to accomplish this he later reminds us, 'Our task is to discover how to organise our strength and compelling power.'

Brothers and sisters, that is what we must do across the globe, in your country and in our country, workers and their movement must take their rightful place and participate in the decisions that affect not just their work life but their social systems as well.

We have an ongoing responsibility to fight on behalf of those who work every day and, secondly, to fight on behalf of a sane and civilised society.

I thank you for your hospitality during this Congress and look forward to working with you, each and every one of you, in your capacities as leaders of your union. Thank you so very much on behalf of the AFL/CIO.

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