LaborTalk for April 1, 2011

Will AFL-CIO’s Massive April 4 ‘Day of Actions’
Stop the Republican Effort to Strangle Unions?

By Harry Kelber

With its members unified and energized for the first time in years, the AFL-CIO and its affiliates will conduct a nation-wide “Day of Actions” on April 4, 2011, aimed at defending the rights of workers and their unions, that are now under fierce attack from Republicans and right-wing zealots.

Under the banner, “We Are One, “AFL-CIO leaders are expecting as many as 400 events around the country on April 4 to dramatize their determination to preserve collective bargaining and other basic labor rights.

With solidarity and unity as their themes, local, state and national unions will conduct marches, teach-ins, sit-ins, video displays, candlelight vigils. street theater skits and other activities on April 4 to support their fellow unionists in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and many other states where Republican governors are approving legislation to strip unions of their rights.

April 4 has symbolic significance for the labor movement, because it was on that day, in 1968, that Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated as he was standing on a balcony of a Memphis hotel, talking with sanitation workers about their demand for a living wage

While the AFL-CIO was making last-minute preparations for its historic April 4 demonstrations, the Ohio legislature approved a bill that would deprive 350,000 workers of the right to engage in collective bargaining with their employers and also restrict their ability to participate in electoral politics. The bill passed the Ohio House by 53 to 44, but by only one vote (17-to-16) in the Senate.

The bill would bar public employees from striking and would prohibit binding arbitration for police and firefighters. It would allow bargaining over wages, but not health coverage and pensions.

In Michigan, where the unemployment rate is among the highest in he country, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder reduced benefits for the unemployed by six weeks. In Maine, Republican Gov. Paul LePage ordered the removal of a 36-foot mural depicting Maine’s labor history from the lobby of the Department of Labor. There are dozens of anti-labor bills in state legislative hoppers across the country, waiting for the opportunity to become law.

How Do Unions Continue Their Fight After April 4?

Let us assume that our April 4th “Day of Actions” is a gratifying success and we have achieved our objective to educate more Americans on the purpose and values of unions. In particular, we have made them more sympathetic to public employee unions. What happens next? How do we carry on the fight from April 5th and the weeks and months thereafter? Will the rampaging Republicans desist from their attacks on unions because of our persistent protests?

What strategy do our leaders propose to safeguard our rights from attack? Can we put pressure on President Obama and the Democrats to intervene in our behalf or risk our support in the 2012 elections? Or are we limited to protest demonstrations while corporations and their right-wing allies tighten their control over our unions?

Some people say the best defense is a strong offense. Is there anything we can do to hit back at those who would deprive us of our rights? Are there any actions we can take to make them pay a price for their efforts to cripple our unions?

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Surely, we should have a strategic plan on how to continue what may become a life-and death struggle to save our unions. Do our AFL-CIO leaders have any ideas on how to proceed? If not, do we have any alternatives?—Harry Kelber

LaborTalk will be posted here on April 5, 2011 and on our two web sites and on

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April 11 is the start of a five-part series on the AFL-CIO