The national AFL-CIO convention which met in St. Louis for four days last week included several representatives from Minnesota, some attending their first AFL-CIO convention and some participating in what might be their last.
The Minnesota contingent included the Minnesota AFL-CIO’s top officers as well as representatives of area labor councils, AFSCME, the Minnesota Nurses Association and the Building Trades.
"We come together every four years at this convention,” said Bill McCarthy, president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO. “It allows our central labor councils and state federations to come together and compare notes and address ways to fight off those forces that would take us down. It gives me hope we will survive and grow as a labor movement.”
"I noticed there was an urgency for all of us to work together,” said Bobby Kasper, president of the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation. “Even though we had some differences of opinion… I think unions really have learned to compromise with each other. I think [AFL-CIO president] Richard Trumka has a great vision to take America back.” And, Kasper added, “ we're probably the only group that can bring the middle class back.”
“I’m really excited about how much work was done to bring more of the labor movement together on the same page,” said Chelsie Glaubitz Gabiou, president of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation. “The enemies we face are bigger than any one union alone.”
“The thing I’m most excited about is the Future of Work [resolution],” she said. “How do we get ahead of the curve and build the labor movement and not just react?”
AFSCME Council 5 Executive Director Eliot Seide was attending his fourth national AFL-CIO convention (and possibly, his last, as he plans to retire later this year). "I think there was a recognition of the urgency to become more nimble, to become more diverse, to modernize our capacity and capabilities, he said. "And I think there was an important recognition that we need to reach out to diverse communities on issues of common concern about the economy and social justice.”
Mary Turner, president of the Minnesota Nurses Association, commented: "This is the first national AFL-CIO convention I've been to, as an alternate with National Nurses United." She was glad to see the convention pass Resolution 6 earlier in the day. "The fact that the National AFL-CIO now supports Medicare for all, which is a solution to fix our broken health care system, I see as a total victory — and well worth coming to this convention."
“It’s always inspiring to have that many dedicated trade unionists in the room and hear so many fantastic stories,” said Russell Hess, political director for the Minnesota Laborers, who was attending the convention in his role as president of Minnesota’s Southeast Area Labor Council. “It’s good to see people from all over the country,” he added. “Sometimes it gets lonely at a labor council in southeast Minnesota and it’s good to know people are fighting the same fights all over the country. If we’re fighting the same fights, often we can share facts and learn how to fight the same battles.”
Alfreda Daniels, community organizer for the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, was attending her first AFL-CIO convention. “Most importantly, I was able to meet a lot of great people from the labor movement who are doing great work in their local unions and central labor councils and learn from them,” she said. Along with others from Minnesota, Daniels participated in a special session for folks from state federations and central labor council which preceded the opening of the convention.
Delegates hailing from Minnesota participated in the floor debate at the convention.
Glaubitz Gabiou spoke in favor of Resolution 3, which focused on the importance of affiliates conducting internal organizing among union members to increase member engagement and develop new leadership as well as the role of central labor councils in helping affiliates develop internal organizing programs. She also highlighted how UFCW Local 653 ran organizing campaigns at Minneapolis grocery food co-ops at the same time as the citywide, grassroots campaign for the $15 municipal wage.
Mary Cathryn Ricker, former president of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers and now executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, spoke in favor of Resolution 47, condemning rising fascism in the United States. She said teachers nationwide report an increasing number of incidents of hate speech and incidents of racism in public schools.
"For the Muslim middle-schooler who asked me if she was going to need to leave the country, say 'yes' to this resolution,” Ricker urged.
Hess spoke in favor of Resolution 55, which supported the transition to a clean energy economy, but he also strongly spoke out against the threats his members have encountered from environmental protestors when working on the Dakota Access Pipeline: "We have had members physically threatened on job sites,” he told the convention. “This is an emotional issue for us."
Seide spoke from the floor of the convention in support of Resolutions 4 and 15, which called for developing a movement-wide strategy to make collective bargaining available to every worker and for focusing all the AFL-CIO’s work in backing affiliates’ mission “to assist working people organizing for a better life.”
Seide, who is perhaps Minnesota’s best labor orator, concluded: “The fundamental question for us — and for America — is do we want to have strong a strong labor movement? Do we want to have unions? Do we want to have a voice in our workplaces? The answer to that must be a resounding ‘yes!’ And to do that we need to gather together in one mighty force, strategic, organized, resourced, and bring a voice to workers in every workplace in America because without it American democracy won’t survive…”
The final day of the convention — October 25, 2017 — marked the 15th anniversary of the death of U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone, who proudly described himself as "a labor Senator from Minnesota." AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka called on the convention “to stand in a moment of respect for a fallen warrior, Paul Wellstone.”
Glaubitz Gabiou addressed the convention and said, "Wellstone was a trail-blazer for all working people in Minnesota. Minnesota is better today because we built a movement around his vision for a better politics. As Wellstone would say, we all do better when we all do better."
View more photos on the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation's Facebook page.