Statewide labor convention opens with political call to action

Election-year politics dominated Day 1 of the Minnesota AFL-CIO’s 51st Constitutional Convention in Rochester yesterday, as speakers, including U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, urged delegates to take action in support of labor-endorsed candidates up and down the Nov. 6 ballot.

Klobuchar, whose campaign for a second term has the state labor federation’s endorsement, said unions will succeed in the 2012 elections by sticking to their vision for the U.S. economy – one that creates shared prosperity, preserves opportunities for all and rewards those who work hard and play by the rules.

“As hard as this (economy) is, it could be so much worse,” Klobuchar said. “We have to keep focused on the economic agenda, and that’s what I’ve done.”

Klobuchar and other speakers drew a sharp distinction between President Obama’s economic plan and the vision offered by Republican nominee Mitt Romney. One candidate puts middle class families first, she said; the other serves the interests of the richest 1 percent.

“In order to bring the debt down – which it actually doesn’t do – they’re proposing $250,000 in additional tax cuts for people making over $1 million,” Klobuchar said. “That’s totally the opposite of what we need to do.”

Liz Shuler, secretary-treasurer of the national AFL-CIO, called Romney the “outsourcer in chief.”

“At Bain Capital he destroyed jobs and bankrupted companies like they were toys in his personal toy chest,” Shuler said, adding that Romney “even outsources his own bank accounts to Bermuda and Switzerland and other tax havens so he doesn’t have to pay his fair share to support this country.”

Delegates to the convention also heard about political efforts closer to home, including the Minnesota AFL-CIO’s plan to rebuild labor majorities in both houses of the Minnesota Legislature. Republicans in the House and the Senate, Minnesota AFL-CIO President Shar Knutson said, have done much over the last two years to divide workers, weaken unions and make it harder to vote – but they haven’t done much to create jobs.

“They tried to throw everything they could at us,” Knutson said. “They tried to weaken collective bargaining, gut prevailing wage, reduce safety standards and attack the professionals that educate our children… There were hundreds of attacks.”

Ultimately, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton helped stave off most attacks on workers. But as Nov. 6 draws closer, Knutson said, union members must remember how narrow Dayton’s election was.

“If 2.4 percent of union members had voted for Emmer instead of Dayton, Tom Emmer would be governor, and our state would look just like Wisconsin,” she said, referring to the all-out attack on collective bargaining that took place after Republicans swept control of that state’s government in 2010.

“If we do what we need to do – knock the doors, make the calls, get those fliers out at the worksite, talk to our friends and neighbors – we will elect a pro-worker majority to the Minnesota Legislature that will put us, middle class families, to work,” Knutson added. “If we fail, Right to Work will come back with a vengeance.”

After the conclusion of business Sunday, the convention floor became the site of a brief Labor 2012 campaign phone bank, as delegates called fellow union members on behalf of endorsed candidates from Southeast Minnesota.

The Minnesota AFL-CIO’s convention continues today. Delegates participated in workshops this morning, and were scheduled to hear from more speakers, including Dayton, this afternoon.

Today’s schedule also includes presentations on union organizing, the campaigns to defeat both constitutional amendments on the Nov. 6 ballot and the lockout of 1,300 American Crystal Sugar workers in Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa.

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