Emergency Labor Meeting

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An Emergency Labor Meeting was held in Cleveland, Ohio on March 4-5, 2011.


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.” 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:[1]

  • March 12: Participants pledged to go back to their unions and workers’ organizations to promote the March 12 Day of Action called by Brother David Newby, President-Emeritus of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO.
  • April 4: Participants welcomed the call issued by Larry Cohen, International President of the Communication Workers of America to organize on April 4, the anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This call has since been supported by the AFL-CIO Executive Board, which is urging "movement-wide dramatic actions" on this day.

Perspectives Approved by the ELM

The meeting approved the following perspectives:[1]

  1. As they are doing throughout most countries, the corporate class is using the financial crisis orchestrated by them to launch unprecedented attacks on the job security, living standards, working conditions and useful public services once enjoyed by the working class in the United States. This cold-blooded offensive threatens the very existence of our unions.
  2. Labor movement unity in action -- public and private sector, the two federations and the independent unions -- is indispensable to success in stopping and reversing this assault.
  3. As recent events in Wisconsin have reaffirmed, the key to an effective fight-back is mobilization of the union ranks. We envision a strategy that includes both actions in the workplace and in the streets.
  4. We must go to the streets to defend trade union and democratic rights, as public sector workers are now doing. The right to collective bargaining is a right enshrined in universally recognized Conventions 87 and 98 of the UN-based International Labor Organization (ILO); it is also a human right codified in the UN Charter. In fact, the United States is on trial before world public opinion for violating basic labor rights at home. The ILO ruled recently that the state of North Carolina was out of compliance with international labor standards for denying collective-bargaining rights for public sector workers, and the ILO called on North Carolina and the U.S. government to repeal this ban on collective-bargaining rights.
  5. We must also go to the streets to oppose the concessions demanded by the bosses and the government. There is plenty of money available without demanding givebacks from public employees, but this requires changing our nation's priorities to raise taxes on the rich, redirect war dollars to meet human needs, and more -- all demands that we must place on the federal government. We can no longer effectively deal with such crucial issues as health care and retirement through collective bargaining alone.
  6. We not only defend the social insurance model -- Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public education, food stamps, unemployment insurance, etc. -- but demand that these programs be strengthened and improved. And it is high time we follow the example won by our Canadian sisters and brothers decades ago by extending Medicare to all.
  7. Nor can contract negotiations create the 27 million full-time jobs urgently needed today. Since the private sector has failed to do this (in fact, the corporations continue to off-shore good full-time jobs in their continued drive to lower labor costs), we need a public sector that can put America back to work rebuilding our neglected and crumbling infrastructure, revitalizing mass transit, and promoting a sustainable economy. The public sector and public services provide the basic core safety net for human rights.
  8. In fighting for such independent solutions to our country's crises we would return to what once was the bedrock of trade unionism -- our unions champion the needs of the entire working class, including the unemployed, not just our dues-paying members. That approach was what enabled the historic labor victories during the depths of the Great Depression. This is not only the right thing to do; with union density at near record lows we cannot win the big struggles just on our own.
  9. To cement working class unity we reject every attempt to divide us by race, skin color, gender, immigration status, religion, or sexual orientation. This means not only politically correct resolutions but active support to all targets of such pernicious discrimination.
  10. A unified, energized working class could reach out for even wider alliances. There are millions of students, mom-and-pop businesses, family farmers, and others who are being squeezed by the corporate class. Seeking to partner with the Chamber of Commerce and corporate America, however, can only lead to failure for labor and its allies.
  11. Our goals cannot be met while American blood and vast amounts of our tax dollars are being consumed by unjust wars to advance the global corporate agenda. We say end the wars, bring all of our troops home now -- and put the war budget to work for human needs.
  12. Instead of supporting wars of intervention, the labor movement should embrace international worker solidarity. The mutual declarations of support between protesters in Madison and insurgent independent unions in Egypt are a proud example that deserve wide emulation.
  13. Since many of the attacks we face today have bipartisan support, labor must act independently of these two parties. To the extent that the labor movement subordinates its demands to agreements with these parties in the name of "shared sacrifice," it will not be able to defend effectively the interests of its members and of the working-class majority.
  14. The call to protect the right to collective bargaining must include the demand to repeal all laws that prevent workers, such as those in the U.S. South, from having the right to bargain collectively and arrive at enforceable contracts. All laws, such as the Taft-Hartley Act, that prevent the consolidation of strong unions in the Southeast and other regions of the country must be repealed.
  15. We must view organizing the South as fundamental to rebuilding a strong national labor movement in this country.

Endorsers of the Meeting

The following endorsed the meeting:[1]