SC Convention 2018: UE Chief Touts NC/SC Union Efforts

The 2018 Convention of the South Carolina AFL-CIO was once again held in Georgetown. The event barely missed a hurricane like the one that cut the previous year’s convention short.

Keynote speaker was United Electrical(UE) General President Peter Knowlton.

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Knowlton spoke proudly of the strides made by unions in North Carolina. “The labor leaders there have become leaders in their community, not just on labor issues but on other important community issues,” he said, “and like you in South Carolina, they do it in a right-to-work state.”

Knowlton said that union leaders in North and South Carolina figure out creative ways to achieve deep union participation, and work to get what is needed. “We have a choice, to sit on our behinds as dues roll in, or we get off our behinds and get our members and leaders out into the communities that we work and reside in where we provide leadership so that we put workers front and center in our collective lives…This is a crisis in labor, because sometimes we chose exclusion rather than inclusion. We chose to act more like a club than a movement. The new movement of labor relations in this nation is going to be more like the South than the North. And I think that’s a really good thing because of the way we organize.”

Knowlton attacked the American health insurance industry, saying that it was an industry that wastes billions of dollars so that a very small number of people can have an incredible amount of wealth. “It’s an industry that provides zero value to our society and is also, by the way, a big threat to the single-payer healthcare system in Canada, and one of the greatest fears of our sisters and brothers in the North.”

Knowlton said that aside from racism that currently poisons the soul of this nation, there is no greater inequality than the health insurance system. “There’s no greater economic calamity that oppresses working and poor people than the health insurance system. But we actually might see what they have in Canada, and see it in our lifetime.”

Knowlton said that the US is at a crucial point, and that he fears for future generations if the current political course isn’t changed soon. “If we don’t do the educational work in our Locals, our work places and our communities right now, there’s a likelihood that in the not-to-distant future that we will experience a neutron bomb affect. If we were threatened with deadly chemicals in the workplace we would force our boss to get rid of the problem, and we would replace it with a safe chemical. There’s no longer any debate that humans and their fossil fuels are causing global warming. That’s what 97% of scientists tell us.”

 

Other speakers included:

National AFL-CIO Field Representative Isaac Gobern discussed the importance of engaging in effective communication when talking with people about unions, even those who are opposed to them(see separate story on this website).

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Mark Dudzic, Director of the Labor Campaign for Single Payer Healthcare, spoke against the current US healthcare system. “The average family healthcare cost is about $28 thousand per year. These are huge unsustainable numbers. Even if the boss pays just under $16-thousand, the family has to pick up the rest, through their payments, co-payments, deductibles, uncovered expenses. How can you be organizing low-wage workers, fighting to get their wages up to $15 and hour, but then realize that you need another $14 an hour just for that family to have decent healthcare coverage?” 

Katherine Isaac with the National APWU discussed “Postal Banking,” where local offices would provide basic banking services like check cashing. She also said that it’s essential for locals to oppose privatization of the postal system (see separate story on this website).

Karen Brison Bell discussed voting machines and voter access in South Carolina.  She said SC Voting machines need to be changed. She encouraged every South Carolinian to work toward that. She said that she had worked in North Carolina implementing their voting machines but that in NC they had a paper trail from each machine and that’s a big point of controversy in SC, and it’s time for SC to have new equipment. “The technology you’re using dates back into the ‘90’s; our federal government has been delayed and that gets into the politics of it too.”

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Ann Swartz with AFGE 1915 addressed the issue of changes that have occurred with her union’s contract following pressures under the Trump Administration.  She also talked about the importance of VA Healthcare. Swartz has worked with the VA Hospital in Columbia for many years.  “We need hospitals for people to go to and we need all of the things that a kind culture uses to take care of its people.”

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The SC AFL-CIO Labor Person of the Year Award was given to Columbia CLC President Sandy Squirewell.

Newly-elected SC AFL-CIO Board Members include Eddie Byrams(E-Board); James N. Boston (E-Board); and Alan Rouse, Jr.(Trustee).