AFL-CIO Sees Wisconsin as Springboard for Repositioning

The AFL-CIO is poised for action in response to a series of coordinated Republican attacks against public employees that threatens the very existence of unions’ collective bargaining rights.

“Everyone is very energized,” said Diann Woodard, AFSA international president. “The AFL-CIO is seeing what’s happening in Wisconsin and wants to use it as a springboard to reposition the labor movement.”

Woodard attended the AFL-CIO Executive Council meeting in Washington, D.C., on March 1–3. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka framed the meeting by stating the union movement must stay focused on its top priorities, which are growth, organizing, repositioning, effective political programs and state-level battles.

President Trumka acknowledged the energy the Wisconsin incident has provided the union movement. He said the AFL-CIO has been tracking more than 500 pieces of anti-labor legislation being proposed throughout the states.

Woodard said the protests in Wisconsin are reminiscent of the glory days of unions. She said the number of young people and amount of diversity the protests have produced is inspiring.

“Seeing all of these groups under one banner is exciting,” Woodard said. “This is about our collective ability to have a voice and represent all groups of people.”

According to Woodard, the AFL-CIO made it clear it is prepared to do everything necessary to stand up for union rights in Wisconsin and across the country. President Trumka took a show of hands to confirm the Executive Council’s willingness to do whatever it takes to win in Wisconsin and received unanimous support.

Additionally, the AFL-CIO planned a Day of Action that took place on April 4. The focus was on solidarity with Wisconsin workers and the fight to restore the middle class.

“They are trying to take away the system of checks and balances,” Woodard said. “We can’t just have one person in charge. This day of action is to show that we are all united.”

At the conference, workers and activists spoke on their perspectives from Wisconsin and Indiana. There was discussion of using the current momentum to begin repositioning the AFL-CIO and make it more relevant in the long term. The idea is to activate and keep younger workers engaged as well as continuing to speak to more experienced workers.

The repositioning may take a look at the AFL-CIO logo, the message and the use of social media. The idea is to redefine how the public views unions. The AFL-CIO will attempt to rebuild its identity and develop a core message, raise its profile, reconnect with its members through training and education, amplify national outreach and engage key audiences and new communities.

There also was discussion about reaching out to communities and seizing opportunities to keep engaged the many different groups that have come out in support of Wisconsin workers. To further the involvement of all unions, each national union was asked to ensure all of its locals join, affiliate and participate with the state federations and central labor councils in their communities.

Woodard said she has ideas on how AFSA can organize in response to Wisconsin, and said AFSA is moving to position itself at the forefront of today’s labor and education issues.

“We need to be heard. We need to be represented. We see our rights deteriorating every day and this cannot and should not keep happening,” she said. “It is important that we are participating and making ourselves known.”

The AFL-CIO wrapped up the conference by reminding Executive Council members the National Labor College offers an online degree program for all workers. Other items discussed included the 2012 Martin Luther King Jr. celebration, which will be held in Detroit. The 2013 celebration will be held in Philadelphia.