UE’s 78th convention opened today in Pittsburgh with remarks from two women who have led extraordinary movements that have transformed the politics of their cities.
In keeping with the convention’s theme of “Building Strike Power,” Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates described how the 2012 CTU strike “helped to organize Chicago to want more, to build an appetite for what they deserved.” When teachers “shut Chicago down” in 2012 over demands developed in consultation with the community, she said, “people never felt more powerful in their life.”
Then-Mayor Rahm Emmanuel retaliated by closing 50 schools in 2013. In the ten years since then, Davis said, CTU went on strike three more times and built coalitions with working-class people across the city. “That’s not a PAC program, that’s building power,” said Davis, referring to many unions’ reliance on simply handing out cash from their political action committees (known as PACs). In 2023, that movement successfully elected former CTU organizer Brandon Johnson, “a Black man, a progressive, a labor organizer, a middle-school teacher,” as mayor of the city of Chicago.
Davis emphasized the connection between the labor movement and the Black freedom struggle. “Labor, if you want a better wage and better benefits, then you better believe in the liberation of Black people.”
Delegates also heard from Congresswoman Summer Lee (D-PA). Lee was first elected to the Pennsylvania state house, defeating an incumbent establishment Democrat, with the support of only one union — UE. Since then, Lee said, the working-class political movement in Pittsburgh has elected “a new mayor, a new county executive, new council members, and new people at all levels of government.
“Pittsburgh got stronger when we started electing people who were actually working class,” declared Lee.
Lee reminded delegates that “Left to their own devices, corporations, even a whole bunch of politicians, are never, ever going to do what we need them to do, unless we are holding them accountable.” She said, “I know how UE, from Pittsburgh up to Erie, has been putting the bosses on notice time and time again.”
Lee also emphasized the importance for the working-class movement of engaging in electoral politics, and contrasted politicians who “support” workers in struggle by saying “We hope that this gets resolved as soon as possible” with those who will say, “We are going to stand here until the workers get everything that they deserve.”
Rev. Erin Angeli
The invocation was given by Reverend Erin Angeli, the Associate Pastor for Queer and Neighborhood Ministry at the Commonwealth of Oakland faith community. Angeli invoked a spirit of unity, noting that “When we honor the giftedness of everyone in the room, we go further than we ever could on our own.”
Delegates were welcomed to Pittsburgh by Mayor Ed Gainey, who like Lee ran against an incumbent establishment Democrat, and who won with the help of UE. Gainey gave a rousing defense of the labor movement and made it clear which side he is on. “I don’t know millionaires and billionaires but I know working-class families,” Gainey said. “I understand the fact that it’s working-class families that move the economy.” Gainey also urged delegates to “Pray for our brothers and sisters in the auto workers union,” noting that the current UAW strike is a strike for the future of the working class.
The session opened and closed with music from the Fruit of Labor Singing Ensemble, made up of rank-and-file workers, many of whom are leaders in UE Local 150. (Fruit of Labor’s music can be streamed or purchased at https://www.fruitoflabor.org/music.)
Fruit of Labor Singing Ensemble
During the proceedings, UE General President Carl Rosen also recognized retired UE NEWS Managing Editor Al Hart, who was taking photographs. Hart joined UE almost fifty years ago, signing up as a Local 506 member as soon as he went to work at the GE plant in Erie, PA in October of 1973.
Retired UE NEWS Managing Editor Al Hart talks with Congresswoman Summer Lee.