Shuler: ‘Resistance is working. But persistence will get us where we need to be’
VANCOUVER (July 18, 2017) — The first Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO convention of the Trump presidency had all the makings of a somber affair. It occurs amid threats to take away health coverage for millions, the specter of national “right-to-work” legislation to weaken unions, and budget proposals to cut Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.
But the mood was inspired, even jubilant at times, as union delegates from across Washington state gathered Tuesday to talk about efforts to resist that Trump agenda while persisting with progressive efforts to improve the lives of working families.
“Have we been here before? Has it ever been easy to be in the labor movement?” asked AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler in her keynote address. “Now is the time to remember why we are in the labor movement for the first place. It‘s because we care about people. People we love. People we will never meet.”
She rattled off a list of successes here in Washington state, including the recent passage of “the most generous paid family leave law in the country” and last fall’s labor-led Initiative 1433 that is raising the state minimum wage to $13.50 and allowing all workers to earn paid sick leave. In addition to these wins at the state level, Shuler reminded all that efforts to oppose Trump’s destructive agenda are working.
“While Donald Trump may have won the election, he has not one a single major policy fight,” she said. “Resistance if working. But it is persistence that will get us where we need to be.”
WSLC President Jeff Johnson had opened the convention with Tuesday’s news that months of activism and organizing to defeat GOP efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act have been successful. Two more Republican senators had just announced they were opposed to the latest version of Trumpcare that would cost millions there health coverage and dramatically drive up costs for people with pre-existing conditions. So for now, that effort appears dead in the water.
“It’s encouraging to see that more and more people are seeing that health care is a human right,” Johnson said, later adding, “I find great optimism in this time of resistance.”
Governor Jay Inslee told convention delegates that he was “proud of our state that respects the right of people to join together in collective bargaining,” which has helped make Washington the fifth most unionized state in the nation. And lest anyone believe the right-wing talking points that unions are bad for business, Inslee pointed out that CNBC just declared Washington the best state in the nation to do business.
“This (union) organizing fundamentally agrees that the best thing for economic growth is good wages for families so they can be good consumers,” he said.
The governor earned raucous applause when he explained why he vetoed and major business tax cut rammed through in 11th hour budget negotiations amid property tax increases for homeowners.
“At 3 in the morning, when they put a tax increase on Washington families and tried to pass a tax cut for business with no accountability or assurance of good jobs, I vetoed it and that was the right thing to do,” the governor said.
Inslee was followed by state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who got a hero’s welcome for his successful lawsuit to block Trump’s Muslim travel ban. He was presented the 2017 Power to the People award by the WSLC.
“I want you to know we have now filed 11 lawsuits against the Trump administration. So far, we’re 3-0,” Ferguson said. “When this administration attacks the men and women of this state, you can count on the fact that my office will be there for you.”
He pointed out that, in case anyone accuses him of engaging in this resistance for political reasons, he has also fought to hold the federal government accountable under the Obama administration, suing to demand better health and safety protections for Hanford workers. The feds’ own reports have documented that these workers are being exposed to harmful vapors and other dangers, but the government has failed to take action to protect them. That lawsuit is ongoing.
“Like that Pete Seeger song goes, I have the ‘hammer of justice’,” Ferguson said. “I can hold everybody accountable to rule of law, whether it’s Comcast or the President of the United States.”
Perhaps the most poignant moment of Tuesday’s convention action was when delegates heard from Jorge Barón, Executive Director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. Trump’s aggressive immigration and detention policies have created a climate of fear among immigrant families and disrupted the lives of thousands.
“Even as we are gathered here, just up the road on I-5 (in Tacoma), there are 1,500 detained in the Northwest Detention Center run by a private corporation that profits from human misery,” Barón said.
He told the stories of two detainees: a “Dreamer” no longer under the protection of Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and an Iraq War veteran who were among them. Thanks to advocacy from the attorneys at the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, the Dreamer has been released, although he still faces a deportation case. The veteran is still detained in Tacoma.
WSLC President Jeff Johnson presented Barón with this year’s President’s Award for his team’s extraordinary efforts to fight for the rights of immigrant workers and their families in Washington state.
Convention delegates also got to meet Manka Dhingra, labor’s endorsed candidate for State Senate in the 45th Legislative District (Redmond, Woodinville). This fall’s critical special election in this race will determine whether or not there will be a pro-worker majority in the Senate.
A King County prosecutor, Dhingra described how the Trump-era climate of fear and concern for the future in her community, and among people of color in particular, inspired her to seek public office for the first time.
“This is me stepping up,” she said.
On the convention agenda for Wednesday are author/commentator Bill Fletcher Jr. on racial justice, North Carolina AFL-CIO’s MaryBe McMillan on “right-to-work” laws,” and Nancy Altman of Social Security Works.