The election of Barack Obama as President and larger pro-working family majorities in the House and Senate presents working Americans with an unprecedented opportunity to reverse decades of declining living standards and eroding economic power. Americans woke up on November 5th with the first real chance in at least a generation to rebuild the middle class by investing in good jobs, health care and restoring the freedom to form and join unions.
The new Administration and Congress must address the current financial crisis with a comprehensive economic revitalization agenda, including an immediate and meaningful stimulus package, an overhaul of our broken health care system, reform of financial regulations as well as trade and tax policy – and, importantly, a restoration of the freedom to form unions and bargain collectively. Unless we restore the power of working people to bargain with their companies for a better life, economic growth will not be broadly shared and income inequality will not diminish. Even in the short run, wage growth through renewed collective bargaining can help restore consumer demand at a time when the chances of an economy-wide recovery depend on it, just as in the 1930s.
The AFL-CIO is committed to building a grassroots program to fight for this agenda of economic renewal, and will build a grassroots structure modeled on the successful Labor 2008 program. Our energy and resources will be deployed as necessary to turn around America. We recognize that nobody but the American labor movement will make restoring the freedom to organize priority #1; thus our first focus is building a filibuster-proof majority for the Employee Free Choice Act.
The AFL-CIO made passage of the Employee Free Choice Act a top priority in every race for federal office, including the contest for President. Business interests spent lavishly to defeat candidates who supported the Employee Free Choice Act. Yet despite spending more than $20 million on misleading statements and vicious anti-union ads, candidates up and down the ballot who support the Employee Free Choice Act won clear victories.
Now the real work begins. Reversing the erosion of workers’ rights and the decades-long slide in the percentage of workers covered by collective bargaining will only occur if the labor movement is prepared to escalate its grass roots efforts to win popular support for the Employee Free Choice Act as well as unshakeable commitments from elected officials, from the President on down.
For more than five years, the AFL-CIO and our affiliates have been preparing for this moment. During the 110th Congress, the House passed the Employee Free Choice Act by a lopsided margin, with over 230 members signed up as co-sponsors. A majority of Senators, but not the required sixty, voted to cut off debate and pass the bill in the Senate. Last month, nearly two months ahead of schedule, the Million Member Mobilization met its goal of signing up over one million supporters of the Employee Free Choice Act. We intend to add more supporters in the weeks and months ahead and they will form the core of our activist base, sending e-mails and letters to Congress and participating in other public demonstrations of support.
Building on the successful Million Member Mobilization, the AFL-CIO and its affiliates resolve to build a grass roots campaign that will engage every part of our labor movement. As has been said so often, no part of the labor movement can be strong unless the whole labor movement is permitted to grow, and the Employee Free Choice Act is a key to that growth. That is why we are so proud of the tremendous support the Million Member Mobilization received from unions in every sector, including the building trades, public sector and transportation.
We will need the leadership of every affiliate union, every state federation, every local labor council and every local union – as well as the Change to Win unions and the National Education Association.
Starting in November, the leaders of every state labor movement will meet to develop state-specific plans with concrete goals for how many union members they will reach, and how many contacts they will make with their Representatives and Senators. The state plan will map out a member education strategy, using materials provided by the national AFL-CIO, as well as aggressive outreach to allies and partners.
The state level campaign to pass the Employee Free Choice Act will require targeting every incumbent and every newly elected Member who spoke in favor of the bill during the 2008 campaign. The campaign will focus most intensely on states where our efforts can be most effective.
The 2009 issues mobilization effort, beginning with the Employee Free Choice Act, is going to require resources – and staffing. The AFL-CIO intends to redeploy dozens of our own field staff and communications staff to cover the target states. The affiliates of the AFL-CIO must also release staff to cover these same states, as we did with Labor 2008.
The opposition is going to wage a very public communications war against the Employee Free Choice Act with almost unlimited funds. The AFL-CIO and our affiliates need to press for a full-scale program of both paid and earned media. We’ll recruit and train union leaders at every level to serve as spokespersons in the campaign.
We may not be able to match the opposition dollar for dollar, but we can counter them with high-visibility events and coverage that shows how much the public supports the rebirth of collective bargain to strengthen the middle class. And working with American Rights At Work, we will build a media fund that will enable us to counter the outrageous lies and scare tactics spread by the Center for Union Facts and other corporate mouthpieces. We will need to work intensively with our natural allies, providing them with information as well as opportunities to be a part of our public messaging and mobilization.
Starting in December, hundreds of state federations and local labor councils will conduct member education and mobilization meetings. The goal will be to use these meetings as organizing opportunities to spread the campaign to local unions and to mobilize members to contact their Representatives and Senators.
Last year, the AFL-CIO launched the campaign to Turn Around America. The election of Barack Obama demands that we re-launch the campaign on a scale large enough to win generational changes in public policy, beginning with the Employee Free Choice Act. We do not have the luxury of taking a post election break and waiting until January to gear up. With the full support and engagement of every affiliate union, every state federation, every local labor council and every local union, our campaign must begin now.