USW Lays Out Action Platform as Gerard Denounces 'Shrewd, Greedy and Powerful' Forces Set to Destroy Workers

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Steelworkers convention delegates adopted a multi-point action platform for their union for coming years to battle what re-elected President Leo Gerard called “shrewd, greedy and powerful” forces out to destroy workers.

The plan was touchstone of the 4-day convention, in Las Vegas , August 11-15.

The platform calls for the union, which represents workers in steel, oil, rubber and plastics, chemicals and other industries, “to fight continually” for jobs with family-sustaining wages and to reduce income inequality.  Reducing inequality “is at the core of rebuilding our economies.” delegates said.  That means also changing the way USW organizes, they said.  

But the entire action plan, and other gains workers have made, are at risk in U.S. elections this fall, Gerard warned delegates in a hard-hitting keynote address.

“These powerful forces intend to destroy collective bargaining, to pauperize working people and permanently elevate the wealthy,” he warned.

“In a few months, there will be a federal election in the U.S. that could result in majorities in both chambers of our legislatures with some of the wackiest, Right-Wing, anti-worker nut jobs in our histories” in both the U.S. and Canada, he explained.  “ And if that does not get you fired up, it’s hard to know what will.”

The political battles will be nationwide, but the union will especially target organizing the anti-union, anti-worker South, Gerard said.  Doing so “is crucial because the only way to change people’s minds about the value of unions is to share their vision for a better life and offer them a way to achieve it.”  New ideas for organizing the South – and elsewhere – must come from “the energy” of rank-and-file members, he added.

“We must find new and more powerful ways to get the target off our backs and get new members in to the fight.”  That will mean heavy involvement not just from union officers, but from all unionists, he warned.   “We need you.  Our power as a union comes from the activism of our members and our solidarity.”

In the action plan, the 3,000 USW delegates decided to work for full employment, against stagnating wages and “work hard for legislation” in both nations “that facilitates organizing so that all workers have the opportunity to bargain collectively.'

On economics, the delegates decided USW will push to rebuild a strong manufacturing base for more economic stimulus programs in both countries.  The stimulus programs should concentrate on investing in infrastructure, education and technology.  The union will also campaign to repeal former GOP President George W. Bush's tax cuts for the rich, and for further re-regulation of the financial sector.  The financiers' finagling, aided by Bush's policies, caused the Great Recession, also known as the Bush Crash.

Delegates also decided USW would work for fair trade deals that include enforceable worker rights in treaty texts, bans on child labor, illegal subsidies, sweatshops and foreign cur-rency manipulation.  Lack of worker rights and the others are unfair trade practices, USW said.

Better health care and retirement security are also top USW goals.  Absent from the overall resolution, however, was USW's – and Gerard's – frequent and strong commitment to government-run single-payer national health care, which Canada now has.  Gerard, an Ontario native, has often spoken about how U.S. health care costs force union negotiators to forgo other gains, such as raises.

And the union strongly backed public sector workers, including USW members.  Delegates said USW will lobby “to ensure that all levels of government are properly financed and empowered to ensure quality public services and education; provide effective regulation of our workplaces, marketplaces and economies; and protect us from environmental degradation.

“Governments at all levels have important roles to play in providing essential services, defending the vulnerable, encouraging environmental sustainability, facilitating economic growth and ensuring a fair and just society,” the union platform said.

But that just and fair society won't occur “as long as our economic policy puts the interests of corporations before the interests of working people,” it adds.  “Corporate short-term profiteering and financial speculation will jeopardize our economic future,” the action plan says.  Gerard was even blunter about the 1 percent.

 “Victory won’t be achieved after one election cycle or one organizing campaign,” he said.  “But it will come from stopping the 1 percent from turning our children into pawns in a global board game of shameless greed.”

USW also laid out an organizing agenda.  It features more organizing in “our historical core industries,” while “building capacity in the public, education and non-profit sectors.”  The union pledged to  “committing the resources necessary to attract new members, bargain fair and equitable contracts, and support progressive public policies and legislation.”

Locals and the international will “change in the way we do things,” said Vice President Tom Conway, explaining the national headquarters will restructure its staff to put more people and money into organizing.  Fellow Vice President Fred Redmond added that unless unions overall change to organize more members, private-sector union density will be half of its present share in 12 years and extinct in 28 years.

To enhance organizing, USW plans to “increase our public profile as a growing progressive union” in communities through pro-worker, pro-public activities such as sponsoring food banks and urban gardens, joining public policy campaigns, working with Habitat for Humanity and building a speakers bureau to teach students about the role of unions.  

USW will also “place enhanced resources” – more money – in organizing drives in larger bargaining units.  And it will step up internal organizing in shops it represents, but where not all the workers are union members, notably in “open shop” states. 

Besides Gerard, speakers included House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Tom Mulcair, leader of Canada's progressive New Democratic Party (NDP).  Canada will hold a parliamentary election next year.  

“Your resolutions are our party platform,” Pelosi said.  She added the House GOP “and their special interest backers are pledging to eliminate collective bargaining rights and disman-tle the National Labor Relations Board if they win control of the Senate and keep the House.” 

The GOP holds the U.S. House 234-199, with two vacancies, while Democrats hold the Senate 53-45, with two pro-Democratic independents.  But the Democrats are defending 21 of the 35 Senate seats up this fall, putting the pro-worker majority at risk.  And while Pelosi and her congressional allies expect to retake the House, independent analysts don't foresee that.

Canada's ruling Conservatives “doubled down on regressive policies advanced by previous Liberal governments that led to levels of inequality not seen since the Great Depres-sion,” Mulcair said.  His party is the official opposition in parliament, for the first time ever, and leads in opinion polls.  “I’m here to tell you there’s hope.  When New Democrats form (the) government in 2015, we’re going to raise the bar.  Everyone who’s ever dreamt of fairness and equality, has brought us to this day. I know the United Steelworkers doesn’t just talk about these goals, it’s willing to fight for them. Together, we’ll make that dream a reality.”  

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Posted In: Allied Approaches, From the News

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