The Texas AFL-CIO convention was depressing, even though it showed continuous improvement in labor’s aggressiveness and strategic action.
If you aren’t subscribing to Ed Sills’ regular labor e-blasts (write firstname.lastname@example.org), then you aren’t staying up with Texas working people. Ed sent out a good comprehensive report and it was upbeat. I assume that eventually it will be on http://texasaflcio.org. Every participant I talked to was upbeat. “Pumped” was the word they used.
Some of the best parts of the convention were the resolutions passed and the opening speech by President Rick Levy. Levy said we are at a crossroads and it is time for Texas labor to “Go big or go home.” In other words, we are in an extraordinary situation with unusual problems and challenges that have to be met aggressively and with our best thinking. I really liked that.
The other thing I really liked was the resolutions. Ed Sills summarized all of them, but I’ll mention just one: “Support for the concept of Medicare for All.” That resolution put Texas out front.
Off the Record
I had two personal conversations that were real zingers. One of them evaluated how to measure success for a Central Labor Council and the other evaluated today’s possibilities for working people.
All of the Central Labor Council leaders, of course, were at the convention. One of them told me that the true measure of local work is whether or not they can shut down the economy. If a Central Labor Council can’t shut down its local economy, then it hasn’t reached its potential, he said. He agreed with me that none of them in Texas has, but that’s where the bar must be set.
There are a lot of professional organizers at these things, and nearly all of the speakers said that the labor movement must, in so many words, “organize or die.” No argument anywhere, BUT: When I talk to union leaders individually and off the record, they tell me that they really don’t have time to organize. The American labor movement is tied up with servicing their members, settling grievances, and negotiating with bosses. Organizing is almost an afterthought and is usually shunted off to one or two individuals, almost as a sideline. The best thing said at the convention about organizing was that we have to make every member an organizer. It’s true but it’s going to be really hard to do.
But one organizer had an entirely different story. A short informal conversation with him made the entire 3-day convention worthwhile for me. This guy talked about turning labor actions over to the members, about looking high and low for allies, and about all things being possible when the members come together and run their own show. The most prominent example of that recently has been the teachers of West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona. I talked about that in another blog. I was absolutely delighted to see another union applying those lessons so well!
I put all kinds of photos and videos on my Facebook page “Gene Lantz.”
So why was I depressed?
On the way to San Antonio for the convention, I was agonizing over the advances that fascism is making in America. We are heading for an awful crossroads and we will either emerge with fascism or a new, extended democracy. The other thing I thought about on the way to San Antonio was the youth of Puerto Rico, who were overthrowing their government with a general strike.
I expected the speakers to deal directly with the danger of fascism and the solution, nationwide labor actions. No matter how good the Texas AFL-CIO convention was, and it was certainly good by any usual measure, if it didn’t deal with those two phenomena, it worried me. These are not normal times.