Denis Hughes, president of the state AFL-CIO since 1991, denounced a too-common media trope that the battle over budget gaps and who pays for declining state revenue "would rip the union movement apart," setting public and private unions at each others' throats.
"It didn't happen," Hughes said, "because we all stood together and fought together, making sure that any cuts were held to a minimum."
NYSUT members in particular "should be proud that you have an organization that isn't afraid to fight back," he added.
On fair-weather politicians, Hughes said he was proud of state labor's efforts to get its story out to the public and make the point to lawmakers — aided by radio and television ads — that "if you go after collective bargaining, that's all for you!"
Hughes praised embattled Wisconsin workers whose resistance to attacks "focused our movement in a way it's never been focused before," adding that those not under collective bargaining learned the vital lesson "that when we go down, they go down."
There's a new fight-back spirit, Hughes said, and for him the question of the moment for every unionist is: "How can I ensure that everyone feels this spirit?"
A good place to start, Hughes told RA delegates, was by joining all segments of the labor movement in packing the "We are One" rally.