Ninety-six union leaders and activists from 26 states and from a broad cross-section of the labor movement gathered at the Laborers Local 310 Hall in Cleveland on March 4-5, 2011, in response to an invitation sent out in January urging them to “explore together what we can do to mount a more militant and robust fight-back campaign to defend the interests of working people.” [See excerpts from Letter of Invitation and list of endorsers of the meeting below.]
Three weeks prior to the Emergency Labor Meeting (ELM), unionists and community and student activists in Wisconsin unleashed a resistance movement against Governor Scott Walker’s union-busting and concessionary attacks that in a short time has breathed new life into the labor movement. The sustained occupation of the State Capitol and the sustained mobilizations in the streets — including 7,000 people who marched on March 3 “Against All Concessions for Workers” at the initiative of National Nurses United and 50,000 people who rallied on March 5 — have galvanized working people across the country.
Participants in the ELM took full note of the new situation and of the grave dangers to the U.S. labor movement and to workers’ and democratic rights posed by Governor Walker’s attacks. They pledged to make the fight against union-busting and the budget cuts/concessions in Wisconsin the centerpiece of an emergency action plan centered on two national days of action called by the labor movement:
Participants agreed to go back to their unions and communities to promote broad support for this April 4 Day of Action in all ways deemed appropriate by unions and community organizations on the ground, including, where possible, industrial actions. They also urged support for these actions around demands that link the struggle in defense of labor rights to the struggle against budget cuts and concessions, and that point to solutions to the federal and state budget deficits, including taxing the rich and the corporations, cutting the war budget, and creating 27 million full-time jobs through a massive public works program (which could be launched immediately and without raising the U.S. budget by a penny with a $1 trillion “Bridge Loan” from the Federal Reserve).
To promote these actions, participants pledged to go back to their cities to build “We Are All Wisconsin!” committees of labor and community activists.
Also, in the event the Walker bill is approved by the Wisconsin legislature, the state’s labor movement has announced that it is prepared to launch a recall campaign designed to remove from office seven members of the Wisconsin Senate. The Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, in fact, has already initiated a fundraising campaign for this purpose. [To send a donation, or for updates on this campaign, go to http://www.wisaflcio.org or call 414-771-0700 .]
In Ohio, a bill to deny collective-bargaining rights to public employees is likely to pass in the General Assembly. Ohio labor and its allies are already gearing up to get the bill rescinded through a referendum. To qualify for a referendum for the ballot in Ohio, supporters must gather about 230,000 valid signatures within 90 days after the bill passes and is signed by the governor. The Ohio labor movement is organizing to gather the necessary number. The bill will not be implemented for 90 days regardless, but if the requisite number of signatures is submitted and validated, the bill will be held in abeyance pending the November 2011 election. A bill passed by the Ohio General Assembly in 1997 to gut workers’ compensation was never implemented because of a successful labor-led campaign to rescind it through a referendum vote.
Participants in the Emergency Labor Meeting discussed a “Perspectives” document submitted by the ELM Organizing Committee. Changes and additions were made to the text, which will serve as the framework for future efforts undertaken by a Continuations Committee that will emanate from the meeting. [See Perspectives document.]
Participants also took a stand urging the ELM Continuations Committee, in collaboration with the fighting unions and community organizations, to consider the possibility of organizing in the not-too-distant future a broader and open Labor-Community Conference structured around the points included in the ELM Perspectives document.
Throughout the four panel discussions of the meeting, participants submitted a whole host of proposals and ideas aimed at bolstering the capacity of the labor movement to assert its independence and fight back against the employers’ and government’s offensive. These will be incorporated into a “Tool Box” on the new website that will be set up by the ELM Continuations Committee.
For example, proposals on how best to organize labor-community coalitions, with reports on activities of the “We Are All Wisconsin!” committees in different cities, will be included in the Tool Box. Also included will be articles and proposals geared to helping to educate union members about the roots of the current economic and financial crisis from a working-class perspective. These are just two of the many sections that will be included in the Tool Box. Participants entrusted the new Continuations Committee with the task of publishing as many of these texts as possible in Spanish and other languages, to strengthen the ties with immigrant workers.
Participants left the meeting encouraged by the new fight-back movement in the country and by the necessary contribution to this movement that this ELM effort can provide. All unionists and activists interested in working with the ELM Continuations Committee to advance the goals contained in the ELM Perspectives document should write to <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
|Excerpt From Letter Of Invitation To The Emergency Labor Meeting
“We want this meeting to address how we can spur more effective action by the labor movement to win the creation of millions of new jobs at the expense of Wall Street and the rich; a moratorium on home foreclosures; defense of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; protection of pensions; closing the widening gap in economic and social inequality; enactment of the Employee Free Choice Act; redirection of war dollars to meet human needs; and generating federal support for state and city governments that are poised to lay off even more teachers and other public employees, support that includes allocating sufficient resources to ensure that ALL of our children have access to quality public schools and affordable higher education.”
Endorsers Of Cleveland Emergency Labor Meeting
Emergency Labor Network