People's World Newspaper
PITTSBURGH - A labor convention different in more ways than one from any prior gathering of the labor movement in U.S. history opened here yesterday.
Some 2,000 delegates, alternates and guests kicked off the convention with a rousing tribute to retiring AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.
While labor movement gatherings often feature tributes to great leaders much of the rest of what is happening here departs from the usual.
Today, for example, the entire convention will leave the hall, enter the streets of Pittsburgh and turn itself into a mass march and rally for universal health care. The throng of labor leaders, activists and their allies, led by the federation’s secretary-treasurer, Richard Trumka and award-winning film maker Michael Moore, will end up at a theatre where they will rally and watch the U.S. premiere of Moore’s highly anticipated film, “Capitalism, a Love Story.”
The convention departs radically from tradition also in terms of the composition of its delegates.
Women, minorities and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people comprise 43 percent of the delegates. All 55 unions at the convention were required to send delegations that reflected the composition of their memberships.
The convention is different also because it is able to record accomplishments that are entirely new for the labor movement.
During John Sweeney’s tenure the AFL-CIO became the nation’s largest grassroots political action movement.
The labor movement grew under his tenure after the establishment of Working America, a vehicle for people without a union on the job that now has 3 million members. Alliances with non traditional labor organizations that represent immigrant workers were formed. One of the most important of those was with the National Day Laborers, which represents many immigrants from Latin America but also workers from Asia and the Pacific.
“Brothers and sisters, this week isn’t about what Sweeney has done, it’s about what you have done,” the outgoing president said in his final keynote address. “When we started down this road together I said it wasn’t about who heads the AFL-CIO but where the AFL-CIO was headed…We’ve taken our federation in a new, positive, progressive direction.
“We elected a champion of working families as the first African American president in the history of our country – and what a thrill it was to watch him last week as he took on the ugly forces that are ripping at the right of American families to have health care – health care as a right and not a privilege.”