NYSUT delegates Friday were urged to take a page from the playbook of the successful campaign that led to the defeat in November of the proposed constitutional convention, and apply that lesson in the war against the right-wing ideologues pushing the Janus case now before the U.S. Supreme Court that aims to destroy unions and silence the voice of working people.
From NYSUT President Andy Pallotta to American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten to New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento, delegates to the union’s 46th Representative Assembly were called on repeatedly to educate members about what’s at stake and mobilize to defend the rights and protections that organized labor has fought so long and hard to secure to improve the lives of workers throughout America.
“We can accomplish together what is impossible to accomplish alone — and that is why the right wing wants to kill us,” said Weingarten, who warned that anti-labor forces backed by the wealthy elite will spend an “obscene” amount of money to pit communities against educators in their bid to crush public unions and end collective bargaining for educators.
Pointing to the successful labor-led campaign against the New York State Constitutional Convention — in which unions educated and mobilized their membership — Weingarten told delegates that success is achieved only “when members see themselves in the advocacy of their unions.”
“The way we beat Janus is the way we beat the Con Con,” she said.
“It is incumbent upon us to build upon that momentum. Organized labor is under attack like never before,” he said. “What we learned from the constitutional convention is that it’s the way we speak with our members. The days of speaking from the top down are over. We have to speak with our members, not to them” so that they become educated and then mobilize.
“If we do this together, with a strategy that makes sense, we will be successful and (members) will know their voices matter,” said Cilento.
Cilento said when union members mobilize and fight for issues like a higher minimum wage, paid family leave and safe-patient handling, it is not only organized labor that benefits.
“Everyone prospers,” he said. “And that’s what drives the right-wing ideologues and that guy in the White House crazy. They want to silence the voice of organized labor. They want to silence the voice of every working man and woman. They want to silence the voice of the middle class.”
In urging the delegates to unite, Cilento said members must stand up against the forces trying to destroy them and deliver the emphatic message: “Not now, not ever!”
Pointing to West Virginia, Arizona and Oklahoma, where teachers have stormed state capitols and rallied in the streets to demand fair pay and a secure retirement, Weingarten said teachers in those states are finally beginning to develop the muscle that NYSUT has built and long maintained.
“People are awakening in this age of Trump,” Weingarten said. “We are in a moment. It is catalytic and exciting. And this may just be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a movement that makes it better for people.”
Recent polls by the Associated Press and National Public Radio, she noted, show Americans overwhelmingly support higher pay for teachers and support teachers’ unions.
“People are rising up like never before,” the AFT president said.
But, action in the streets, Weingarten warned, means nothing without action on Election Day.
“We need to turn these walkouts into walk-ins to the voting booth,” she said. “Are you up for it? Are you willing to change America?”
Delegates responded resoundingly, assuring Weingarten and Pallotta they were up for the challenge. Rising from their chairs, they chanted in unison: “I believe that we will win, I believe that we will win.”
The two union leaders stood on the dais, locked hands and chanted along.