June 15, 2005
Statement of Joe Hansen, International President, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union
WASHINGTON — The following is a statement by Joe Hansen, International President of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, at the ‘Change To Win’ Coalition meeting:
Yesterday, the International Executive Board of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) unanimously endorsed a reform proposal to restructure the AFL- CIO, and to revitalize the labor movement.
Today, we join with some of the largest and most dynamic unions in the labor movement in a coalition for change.
These actions reflect the UFCW’s commitment to build a 21st century labor movement that can bring hope, and a plan of action for a better life, to a new generation of workers. We recognize that today’s realities-a new global economy, unrestrained corporate power, hostile government-present a formidable challenge to our movement. But, we must always remember that from our greatest challenges come our greatest accomplishments.
Labor in the 20th century stood at its lowest point in the 1930s. But, at our lowest point, we also stood on the verge of our greatest growth, our greatest strength and our greatest impact on the economy and society. From the depths of economic depression in 1935, we rose, within 20 years, to our largest percentage of the workforce, and we created the working middle class.
Today’s workers face the steady erosion of their power in the workplace, in the economy and in the political process. Rising profits, increasing productivity and a growing economy have not brought rising wages, better benefits, or economic security. There is a power imbalance between workers and the giant corporations that dominate the world economy.
The UFCW and our coalition partners are committed to redressing this imbalance, and to rebuilding worker power.
The current AFL-CIO administration asserts that there is little difference between our reform agenda and their AFL-CIO Officers’ Proposal.
There are profound differences in our visions for the future for America’s workers. We believe in organizing, not simply for more members, but in organizing to build worker power. The foundation of worker power is in increasing the number of union workers in an industry or occupation. Our proposals specifically direct resources to organizing in a union’s core industries. Our proposal provides for a leadership structure that promotes diversity and full participation and gives authority to the affiliates representing the majority of members.
Rebuilding worker power will give workers the hope for a better future. Workers with hope will organize, they will stand up, they will act in solidarity at work, in the community and in the political process. The starting point for our new movement to rebuild worker power is here, and it starts with us. This is the beginning.
We are going forward to bring a platform for change to the AFL-CIO convention. We will engage all other unions in a dialogue for change. Our purpose is not to divide, but to unite unions in a dynamic new movement for today’s workers.
The unions you see here are the unions representing the emerging 21st century workforce — young people, women, minorities, new immigrants and older workers forced to extend their work lives. From hospitality to retail to services, and from health care to transportation to construction, our unions are fighting the battles, confronting the employers and organizing the workers that are the future in America.
Yesterday, the UFCW Board also authorized the executive officers to disaffiliate from the AFL-CIO. This action was not taken lightly. We are committed to a united, reformed labor movement. But, the status quo will not stand. We will not be chained to the past, our obligation is to the future of our members.
As I said, in the 1930s, we were at our lowest point, but also on the verge of our greatest accomplishments. When the CIO left the AFL in the 1930s, it did not set us back, it propelled the movement forward. The CIO was committed to organizing the workforce of the day — mass production workers — and it changed the labor movement.
I believe today we are taking the steps that will change the labor movement and change the future for workers.