WSLC Convention Day 1: State’s unions vow to fight back, as one

SEATAC — Throughout the country, the labor movement is under vicious and coordinated attack by powerful corporate interests and right-wing conservatives. This is the time for all unions and all members to come together to defend basic workplace rights.

That was the message underscored for more than 500 representatives of local union organizations across the state who gathered Thursday in SeaTac, under the theme “We Are One,” to open the 2011 Convention of the Washington State Labor Council. It’s this annual meeting where the largest labor organization in the state, representing more than 400,000 rank-and-file union members, votes on its policies, positions and priorities for the coming year.

“We are living in very challenging times, but it’s a time of great opportunity as well,” said WSLC President Jeff Johnson in his opening remarks. “Republican governors and legislatures — and in some cases Democratic ones — are trying to eviscerate our collective bargaining rights, our unemployment benefits, and other safety nets for workers.”

On the subject of attacks against bargaining rights, Johnson proclaimed, “They think if they can break the public employee unions, they can break the labor movement. Brothers and sisters, that’s not going to happen. Not in Wisconsin, not in Ohio, and not in Washington State.”

That earned a rousing ovation. But things really got raucous when the next speaker took the stage.

U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) delivered a barnburner of a keynote address Thursday, calling on labor to lead the way in demanding change as he repeatedly called, “We are…,” are the audience erupted, “UNION!”

“Because we are union and we have strength, we have the opportunity to lead the fight for jobs for all, to lead the fight for education for all, to lead the fight for health care for all, to lead the fight for retirement security for all,” he shouted louder and louder.

Kucinich is a national leader on many issues labor considers to be priorities, including fair trade policies that respect labor and environmental standards, creating a public health care system for all, and opposing the costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But the congressman touched on one local issue that affects workers across this nation.

“The NLRB is under attack because it stood up for Boeing workers’ basic rights,” Kucinich said. “When (the company) attacked the Boeing workers by moving the plant to South Carolina, they attacked all workers. We stand in solidarity with Boeing workers.”

A subsequent panel described the important work the WSLC and other labor organizations are doing with community coalition partners. It included representatives of One America, Casa Latina, Washington Community Action Network, and the Faith Action Network.

Robert Pollin, founding Co-Director of the Political Economy Research Institute, led an Industrial Policy panel that discussed the phony debt crisis and the desperate need to create jobs by investing in the nation’s infrastructure and retrofitting buildings to make them energy efficient.

The afternoon session was dedicated to workshops.

See the convention agenda for Friday and Saturday’s schedule.

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