Date: Tue, 6 Jul 2004
Subject: AFSCME Convention Votes to "Bring Troops Home Now"
Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the July 8, 2004
issue of Workers World newspaper
AFSCME CONVENTION VOTES TO "BRING TROOPS HOME NOW"
By Sharon Black
SOME 6,000 PEOPLE participated in the 36th international convention of
AFSCME--the State, County and Municipal Employees union--in Ana heim,
Calif., June 19-25. About 3,000 were delegates from local and district
AFSCME councils. AFSCME Puerto Rico's participation increased
dramatically, from two to 40 delegates.
The meeting, demonstrations nearby, and resolutions against the war in
Iraq reflected a growing militancy among the rank and file of the public
As with the Service Employees union's convention in San Francisco
earlier in June, the AFSCME gathering passed a resolution calling for
U.S. troops to get out of Iraq.
The final resolution involved a struggle over wording with some of the
union leadership, which supports John Kerry's presidential campaign. The
union's resolutions committee had watered down an earlier anti-war
resolution, changing the demand to "bring the troops home as soon as
possible" instead of "now."
Later, Brenda Stokely, president of District Council 1707 representing
daycare workers in New York City, gave an impassioned call from the
conference floor to amend this wording. She expressed the workers'
sentiments when she urged, "Bring the troops home now!"
The delegates cheered and applauded her call. And when the resolution
came to the floor for a vote, these same delegates overwhelmingly passed
the amendment to make the wording "bring the troops home now."
People in the "Union and Community Campaign to Bring the Troops Home
Now" distributed a special petition and flier repeating this demand.
AFSCME convention participants scooped up these fliers.
The issue of the war is of burning importance to workers. Their children
are on the front lines.
UNION'S SUPPORT FOR KERRY CONTRADICTS ANTI-WAR SENTIMENT
Despite the strong anti-war sentiment, AFSCME's official position is
support for John Kerry.
Kerry spoke at the convention on June 24. He called for a stronger
military. He has vowed to increase the number of troops in Iraq.
Yet the AFL-CIO's top leadership is throwing all its efforts and
resources into the Kerry campaign.
This stands in stark contrast to what labor really needs: a resurgence
of action that gets right in the bosses' faces. Labor needs unity that
will challenge the capitalists. It needs a program that is politically
independent of both the Democratic and Republican parties.
Kerry doesn't exactly have a strong pro-labor record. Just recently,
even though he presents himself as labor's candidate, Kerry missed an
important Senate vote on extending unemployment benefits for thousands
of jobless and desperate workers. Had he been there the amendment would
At the convention, the AFSCME delegates approved a $9 union dues
increase. In itself this could be fine--but the increase is meant
primarily to support the Democratic Party and the Kerry election
One delegate from Detroit bravely took the microphone to oppose the dues
increase, asserting that the union's strategy of relying on the
elections is wrong. The delegate suggested that the money would be
better used for strengthening AFSCME locals, on organizing, and on
building bigger demonstrations about union issues.
While this opposition to the dues increase was clearly a minority view,
AFSCME staffers have expressed worry that the dues increase could hurt
The hoopla around Kerry also forced the tabling of many other
progressive resolutions. The Million Worker March, a national rank-and-
file effort to organize a mass labor march on Washington for Oct. 17,
had gathered a number of supporters.
Clarence Thomas from the International Longshore Workers Union Local 10
and others had come to the conference to organize for this effort.
Caucus meetings and a local church meeting in Anaheim helped to build
Unfortunately, the actual floor vote on supporting the march was
scuttled. Nevertheless, march organizers felt they had succeeded in
meeting many like-minded labor unionists.
SECRETARY-TREASURER BILL LUCY CONTINUES ROLE
During the elections of union officers, Secretary-Treasurer Bill Lucy
stunned the membership when he declined nomination for re-election,
citing health problems. Lucy has long been one of the labor movement's
leaders most closely associated with the Black struggle for civil
rights. He traces his roots to the Memphis strike of sanitation workers
that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was supporting when he was
assassinated. Lucy also fought to oppose South African apartheid. He is
president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.
The conference floor broke out in standing ovations of support for Lucy,
with delegates demanding that he stay on as secretary-treasurer. In the
end, Lucy agreed to continue in his role. Both he and Gerald McEntee,
AFSCME president, were unanimously re-elected.
The most dynamic part of the convention was the pre-organizing
conference. There, workers from California, Missouri, Maryland and many
other states talked about their efforts to unionize. On June 23 hundreds
of AFSCME delegates and supporters jumped on buses to travel to the
nearby California University Medical System to demand contract rights
for poorly paid hospital workers who face racism on the job.
Domestic workers, day-care providers, hospital workers, bus drivers and
campus workers are the most exciting layer of AFSCME workers who are
leading the new organizing drives. Most are women and most are African
American, Latina and Asian.