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July 14, 2011                                  Dwight Kirk (202) 257-3966


Speakers Sound the Alarm at CBTU 40TH Anniversary Convention

About Attacks from Right-wing Groups and Politicians

Washington, DC


The message passed smoothly and firmly like a relay baton from speaker to speaker, each one issuing an urgent message to CBTU members: The fight is on to halt the all-out assault on union members and minority voters in the workplace and at the ballot box.

It was a timely message that many delegates at CBTU’s 2011 Convention seemed primed to embrace. So when Arlene Holt-Baker, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO stepped to the microphone, the ballroom quieted as folks listened and watched her presentation intently.

Holt-Baker told the audience that the proliferation of attacks on American workers is neither random nor a spontaneous rebellion by an angry middle class. It is a nationally coordinated campaign waged by wealthy, ultra-conservative foundations, think tanks, media personalities and politicians who are intent on rolling back the power and gains made by workers and minority voters over many decades.

Holt-Baker showed how this right-wing network funds groups like the Tea Party and actively works against progressive issues like health care reform, financial reforms on Wall Street, and key planks of the Civil Rights Act. For example, in 2009 and 2010, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent over $276 million lobbying against this progressive agenda.

Now the public sector has become the flashpoint of the right-wing network’s coordinated campaign. Legislation is being pushed to strip workers of their collective bargaining rights and to give tax breaks to corporations.

While battleground states like Wisconsin and Ohio have grabbed the national spotlight for the hardline actions of their Republic governors and GOP-dominated legislatures, similar attacks on public employees and public sector unions stretch coast to coast and border to border, as Holt-Baker showed.

She jolted the audience when she pointed out that 21% of all black workers are public employees, compared with 16% of non-black workers. She used that sober statistic to hammer the message that black workers, black households, black communities, black organizations, black businesses, and black churches have a huge stake in local efforts to save public sector jobs and protect union rights.

Holt-Baker told the audience, “Standing together, we can win, because we are ONE!” She encouraged CBTU members to make a personal commitment to take concrete actions such as:


  •       Supporting recall petition drives in Wisconsin and ballot initiatives in Ohio

  •        Educating and mobilizing CBTU members with facts
  •        Strengthening community partnerships under the banner of “We Are One”
  •        Registering, educating and mobilizing voters in the next election cycle

Holt-Baker and another convention speaker, Tony Harrison, also dealt with the alarming proliferation of legislation being debated or passed in statehouses across the country that could create mass disenfranchisement of millions of minority voters in the 2012 elections. Tactics such as strict voter ID, proof of citizenship for registration and cutbacks to early voting are being pushed by the same groups and politicians who are leading the assault on unions and public sector workers.

For example, strict photo ID requirements have been introduced in well over half the states and passed in five states, including Wisconsin, where the Republican governor and the GOP-controlled legislature have already gutted collective bargaining rights for most public employees. In Ohio, strict photo ID requirements might be on the ballot in 2012, with the strong backing of Republican governor John Kasich and his conservative allies in the Ohio Assembly.

The disenfranchising potential of requiring a photo ID to vote strikes African Americans severely and disproportionately. A 2006 nationwide study of voting-age citizens by the Brennan Center for Justice found that African Americans are more than three times as likely as white non-Hispanic Americans to lack a government-issued photo ID, with one in four African Americans owning no such identification.

A coalition of national civil rights leaders has vowed to vigorously challenge ID bills and other efforts to intimidate or disenfranchise millions of minority voters. At a media event last month in Washington, DC, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law joined forces with other national organizations to announce a campaign to protect the fundamental right to vote – a sacred right that Lawyers’ Committee Executive Director Barbara Arnwine said, “so many Americans have fought and died to secure.”

In a joint statement, the coalition declared, “National civil rights organizations, through the coordinated efforts of Election Protection, will work throughout the election cycle to collect evidence to effectively challenge and improve bad legislation, work with election officials to enact rules at the local level to expand access, and educate voters, poll workers and election officials about proper implementation of myriad changes in the voting landscape and to ensure that organized efforts to keep certain voters from the polls are vigorously opposed.”

Tony Harrison, a veteran political operative who served as outreach director for former House majority whip James Clyburn (D-SC), urged CBTU members to protect the voting rights of their communities back home by being actively involved in the upcoming redistricting cycle.

“Your voice and your participation in the redistricting process are crucial to black folks not being shortchanged or marginalized when the final plans are drawn up,” Harrison said. “But if you are passive or uninformed or left behind in the process, folks on the other side will not hesitate to disenfranchise us – again – by drawing lines that split black majority districts, or pack African Americans and Latino voters into single districts, or create new, safe districts for Republicans.”

Harrison told CBTU members that the ascendant power of conservatives at the state level, coupled with the surging presence of Latinos, has dramatically and irreversibly changed the political landscape. “We, black folks, can no longer determine the outcome of major elections with our votes alone.” He added, “We must coalesce with Latinos, Asians Americans and other ethnic minorities wherever we have common interests or common adversaries. CBTU can and should anchor this new political alliance to provide fair electoral opportunities for all.”


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