Inside the AFL-CIO
Issued Every Tuesday
Column #15 June 26, 2001

‘7 Days in June’ Staged 200 Events;
Were the Unorganized Listening?

By Harry Kelber

Unions across the country recently staged 200 events in 75 cities in behalf of worker rights. From June 9 to 14, they held marches and rallies, joined picket lines with strikers, hosted public hearings and conducted bus tours and candlelight vigils. All were aimed at publicizing the fact that workers are denied their legal right to join a union because of harassment or loss of a job.

Central labor councils and local unions were responding to the AFL-CIO’s call for the fourth annual “7 Days in June” campaign. In Houston, Boston and New York City, buses were chartered to tour worksites where employers have violated labor laws. Elsewhere, unions stood up for electricians, nurses, hotel workers, janitors, airport workers, roofers, university employees and others struggling for a “voice at work.” Demonstrations and public hearings in several cities focused on the plight of immigrants and low-paid workers.

In South Carolina, 6,000 people rallied in defense of the “Charleston 5,” union longshoremen falsely accused of planning and inciting a riot and now under house arrest. The international presidents of both the East and West Coast longshore unions attended, as did prominent labor, religious and civil rights leaders.

The organizers of the “Seven Days” events spotlighted unscrupulous employers who defy federal labor laws to keep their workplaces “union-free.” On the assumption that most Americans aren’t aware of gross violations of worker rights, the AFL-CIO provided “talking points,” such as: “When workers try to form unions, one in four employers illegally fires workers; half illegally threaten to shut down, and 91% of employers force workers to attend closed-door meetings to hear anti-union propaganda, according to a Cornell (University) study.”

How would unorganized workers react to seeing or hearing these figures? Would they rush off to sign a union authorization card? After listening to descriptions of workers cruelly victimized by employers, would they be more likely to trust a union to defend them?

After four years of “Seven Days” events, are we any closer to achieving passage of pro-worker legislation? The public perception of organized labor, at best, is that it is trying gallantly (but unsuccessfully) to improve the lives of working people. But there are no major victories to report, either in the economic or political spheres — only hard-fought defeats.

No one would suggest that “7 Days” isn’t a worthwhile effort. The problem, however, is a failure to follow up and involve union members and unorganized workers in year-round activities. A ritualized exercise that lasts only a week is a poor substitute.

As the 2002 and 2004 elections approach, Republicans and Democrats are scrambling for the votes of union households. Democrats now control the Senate and Sen. Paul Wellstone (Dem., Minn.) has introduced the long overdue “Right to Organize Act.” What better time to launch an aggressive, full-scale campaign for worker rights?

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