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Thursday Morning: Convention Concludes with Discussion of Retirement, the Environment, Civil Liberties and Foreign Policy

31 August, 2017

The final session of the 75th UE National Convention opened with a viewing of the video “Mouseland.” Mouseland is an animated illustration of a 1944 speech by Canadian politician Tommy Douglas, founder of the labor-aligned New Democratic Party and widely considered the father of Canada’s single-payer healthcare system. In it, Douglas tells a fable about a nation of mice who elect alternating governments of cats, until one day a mouse had the dangerous idea that mice should elect mice to office, with clear implications for workers who continue to elect alternating governments of bosses.

After watching the video, delegates approved a packet of resolutions including “A Just Economy for All,” “Stop the Dismantling of Public Education,” “For a Safe and Healthy Workplace, Fix OSHA Now!,” “UE Retiree Committees: A Wealth of Experience,” “Promote Rail Transportation,” “Protect the Rights of Health Care Workers,” “Increase the Minimum Wage to $15,” “Stop the Ten-Hour Day” and “Build Jobs with Justice and the People’s Movement.”

President Peter Knowlton then recognized UE International Representative Marion Washington, who is scheduled to retire before the next convention.

Retirement Security

Delegates next considered the resolution “Protect and Improve Our Retirement Security.” Joni Anderson, Local 1107 stated that lots of people don’t realize that there’s a cap on social security and that politicians and the wealthy don’t pay the same amount into the system as working people.

Elizabeth Nikazmerad, Local 203, spoke about how she has worked low-wage jobs her entire life. After getting her first full-term job at the grocery store Shaw’s, she was excited to receive a "meagre" 401(k) which would allow her to retire “in 200 years.” Now that she works at a UE shop and contributes duly to her 401(k), “maybe in 150 years I will get to retire.” Fighting to improve the retirement security of all through expanding Social Security, she said, “is incredibly important to low-wage workers like me.”

Marie Lausch, Northeast Region and Local 222, spoke about the struggle to protect pensions for public-sector workers in Connecticut. Nola Lilly, Local 170, talked about the “paltry” retirement benefits for state workers in West Virginia. Scott Slawson, Eastern Region and Local 506, described for delegates how Local 506 has held the line and went on strike to keep their pension in the last two rounds of GE negotiations.

Environment, Civil Liberties, Coops and Pro-Worker Foreign Policy

Discussion then proceeded to the resolution “Protect Our Environment for Future Generations.” Elizabeth Nikazmerad, Local 203, talked about working with a ground of young activists opposing a fracked-gas pipeline being built through Vermont. Chris Wohlford, Local 170, described the health impacts of the fracking industry, which can contaminate people’s drinking water with toxic chemicals and highly radioactive substances.

Speaking on the resolution “Defend Our Civil Liberties,” Carl Rosen, Western Region, noted the importance of this issue in UE history, that UE’s founders dedicated the union to fight for all workers, regardless of political beliefs. Elizabeth Nikazmerad, Local 203, spoke about her experiences participating in civil disobedience in protest of the gutting of single-payer healthcare reform in Vermont and President Trump’s inauguration and Muslim ban. Also speaking on the resolution were Marie Lausch, Northeast Region and Local 222, and Joni Anderson, Local 1107.

Speaking on the resolution “Build Union Co-ops for Economic Justice,” Armando Robles, Local 1110, described how he was inspired by an exchange with Mexican workers who were creating their own workplaces, under the slogan “take over, run, produce.” Elizabeth Jesdale, Local 255, described how as a worker at a consumer coop, her bosses are just like every other boss, and the need for workers at consumer coops to have union protection.

Jesdale also spoke on the next resolution, “Justice and Peace for the Peoples of Palestine and Israel,” which reaffirmed UE’s support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign to pressure the government of Israel to end its apartheid rule over the Palestinians. She related how the president of the Palestinian postal workers’ union was overjoyed to hear that our allies Unifor had also endorsed the BDS movement.

The final resolution considered by the convention was “For Jobs, Peace and a Pro-Worker Foreign Policy.” Carl Rosen, Western Region, reminded the delegates of something that former UE Political Action Director Chris Townsend always said, that the military is the one part of the government that doesn’t get audited. It is a cash cow for corporations and sucks up money that could otherwise be used for social services needed by the people.

Rosen warned against the war-mongering of the current administration, especially against Venezuela. “Trump threatened to send troops into Venezuela because we don’t like the way they conducted an election.” He noted that every president has learned that going to war boosts their popularity, and said that U.S. workers owe it to working people in the rest of the world to keep our government from interfering in their countries.

Elizabeth Nikazmerad, Local 203, also spoke on the resolution, bringing to delegates’ attention the struggles of the people of Rojava. In Rojava, ethnic Kurds who have been oppressed by the governments of both Syria and Turkey are working to create a society based on self-determination, including at the workplace and community level.

President Knowlton then closed the convention, and sent delegates back to their workplaces and communities to continue the struggle for justice for the working class.