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Working In These Times

Friday, Jul 13, 2012, 4:30 pm

AFL-CIO Insists Philadelphia Rally Will Not Be a Shadow Convention

BY Mike Elk

Discarded signs at the 2010 'One Nation' rally in Washington, D.C.   (Logan Mock-Bunting/Getty Images)

Yesterday at the National Press Club, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and IBEW President Edwin Hill dismissed reports that the Workers Stand for America rally to be held in Philadelphia on August 11 is intended to be a “shadow convention” to protest the Democratic National Convention.

Hill and other labor leaders have voiced their displeasure with the Democratic National Convention being held in right-to-work North Carolina, the state with the lowest percentage of union members of any state in the country. Several unions, including the IBEW, are planning on not attending the convention as a result, and some observers speculated the August 11 event in Philadelphia might function as a shadow convention.

“It’s simply not the case,” Trumka said, dismissing such claims. “This is a program we have been doing for quite some time.” Trumka painted the rally as part of a broader program of political independence in which organized labor is acting on political matters through their own organizations instead of outside organizations like the Democratic Party.

"I'm not upset [the DNC] is going on in Charlotte, I'm upset that there's very little unionized construction there, there's very little unionized employment opportunities there," said Hill. "We had our nasty clash, there's no question about it, and I'm still not happy with it, but it's not causing what we're doing right now."

Despite his insistence that the AFL-CIO was not boycotting the Charlotte convention, Trumka said they would be scaling back some of their participation at the DNC. “We will not be doing extravagant events like some of the things we have been doing in the past,” Trumka said.

The separate rally and noise made by labor’s displeasure at the Convention being held in Charlotte appears to have had some effect on the Democratic Party. Hill said that Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.), DNC chairwoman, has agreed to push onto the party platform an agenda pushed by the AFL-CIO known as the Second Bill of Rights. Among the rights expressed in this agenda are “The Right to a Voice at Work.” Hill also said that Wasserman-Schultz would be attending the August 11 rally in Philadelphia.

Missing from the agenda for the 25,000 workers expected to attend the Philadelphia rally will be any type of training session. Many in organized labor often criticize these rallies, which cost millions of dollars, for doing little to train the thousands of members that come to them.

“I'm sure this event in Philly will have the same kind of feel that the 'One Nation' march had in October 2010: very stage-managed, everyone properly outfitted in their matching union t-shirts, and hoards of union staff running around making sure there's cold water and people aren't walking on the grass,” says Mark Brenner, director of Labor Notes, whose organization hosts a bi-annual convention known for the training provided to workers in breakout sessions.

IBEW President Edwin Hill said that there would not be breakout training sessions at the August 11th Workers Stand for America event in Philadelphia.

“We talked about that in the very beginning and that lead to some of the conversation about it being a shadow convention. It really is not” says  Hill.  He also added that there would not be breakout training sessions at the August 11 event in Philadelphia "because it will be brutally hot,“ thus making them logistically difficult and unattractive for workers.

Mike Elk wrote for In These Times and its labor blog, Working In These Times, from 2010 to 2014. He is currently a labor reporter at Politico.

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