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Steelworkers Convention: a determined mood in wake of Trump win

By: 
Carolyn Egan

June 8, 2017

Almost 6,000 delegates and observers arrived in Las Vegas to attend the United Steelworkers convention in April as the union celebrates its 75th anniversary. The United Steelworkers was one of the original CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) unions organizing workers who were not in the skilled trades, believing that every working person had the right to a union.

The Great Depression in the United States and Canada had taken a terrible toll on the working class and the poor. Unions such as the United Autoworkers, the Rubberworkers, Steelworkers and others had committed organizers, many of them socialists and communists, travelling across the country signing up members to take on the boss. It was the robbers and the robbed battling it out for union recognition. People died and were seriously injured in the battles that took place.

1946 Hamilton

The historic strike of 1946 in Hamilton, Ontario was an example when an entire city rallied alongside the striking Steelworkers at STELCO. The workers won and showed the employer that working men and women were prepared to stand up and fight for the dignity and respect that they deserved.

Unions are under attack again in the US and with the election of Donald Trump and his promise to bring in federal “right to work” for less legislation, among a range of other right wing policies, trade unionists are well aware that they are once again in a fight for their lives.

It is no secret that the Steelworker activists were by far supporters of Bernie Sanders. His class perspective drew them and they wanted something more than the Democratic Party operatives were prepared to offer. When Clinton became the nominee her message did not resonate and many rank and file members unfortunately were drawn to the right wing populism of Donald Trump.

Solidarity

In spite of all this, the mood at the convention was one of determination. Many of the speakers who addressed the delegates gave inspiring messages and the theme was “Power in Unity”. One after another told us that alone we are weak but together—Black, Hispanic and white, no matter our gender, sexuality, or ability—we are a force to be reckoned with.

The Reverend William Barber who is a political leader in the Black community in North Carolina blew the roof off the convention centre. Everyone in the room was on their feet as he implored us to get beyond any divisions and take on the fight. He was clear that we can’t organize against class exploitation with out taking on racism in all its manifestations.

He has built a statewide multiracial coalition in the South that has not been seen since the civil rights days. He talks about the rise of a new justice movement that can bring poor Blacks and whites together so that they can see through the lies of Donald Trump and his ruling class cronies. He said that unions will make the difference between victory and defeat for the poor and the working class and that we must join together with movements for change to come.

Delegates allowed themselves to be inspired but the task is not easy. There are tough strikes on and fights around healthcare, Islamophobia, anti-immigrant attacks, anti-Black racism, reproductive justice and more.

The struggle for unity is critical because the one percent is doing everything it can to divide us. The working class globally is in an ongoing struggle against the forces of the right and the working class must organize itself into the fighting force that is necessary to win.

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