TO: AFL-CIO Executive Council and National Union Presidents
FROM: John J Sweeney, President
DATE: September 18, 2003
RE: RE-ELECTION PLANS
FOR SEVERAL MONTHS A NUMBER of you have urged me to decide to seek
re-election as president of the AFL-CIO so that we can move forward
together with our plans for changing and rebuilding the American labor
After a lot of hard thinking, Rich Trumka, Linda Chavez-Thompson and I
have decided to run for re-election as a team at the AFL-CIO convention in
A great deal is yet to be done to build the "strong, new voice for
America's workers" we called for eight years ago when we announced our
candidacies on a platform of change. In many ways, working families and
our unions are stronger now as a result of what we have accomplished
working together with a great Executive Council. In other ways, working
people and our unions are more challenged than ever.
Only if we address these challenges together * as a unified labor movement
* can we possibly bring about the changes, the growth and the power
necessary to win a better standard of living for working men and women and
a better America.
Changing together, moving ahead together * that's how we will build on the
momentum and the many positive developments that are out there. As I
travel around the country, I see the energy and excitement it will take to
make the fight * and I see tremendous pride in what we have already done.
We have made growth the number one priority of our movement. Today more
resources, more union activists and more skilled organizers are dedicated
to organizing -- and more unions than ever are doing the hard, daily work
of organizing and union building. Is it enough? No, but the advances are
important and growing.
We are making the freedom to form a union and bargain collectively a
centerpiece of our legislative and political efforts, at every level of
government. And we have begun an extraordinary campaign to ensure the
freedom of every worker to choose a Voice@work -- beginning with a massive
program to educate our own members about how employers crush workers who
try to exercise their right to organize.
We have created a political program for the labor movement that is second
to none -- a model imitated across the political spectrum. Workplace by
workplace, working people are taking control of their political
futures. It's happening because union after union is doing the difficult
but necessary work of member education and mobilization, putting additional
scarce resources into political activity. We don't always agree on every
issue or every candidate, but we all agree on the importance of forging a
strong political voice for our members.
We are changing the debate about trade and globalization and we're
building power for workers in the capital markets. Instead of having
American workers pitted against workers in developing countries, we have
forged a compact with strong union movements around the world around making
the global economy work for workers everywhere. No politician, not even
the president of the United States, can get away with saying that the loss
of manufacturing jobs is not a crisis, and that growth in the so-called
"new economy" is worth this price. We have not achieved what we need to,
but we are fighting this decades-long debate with a growing focus and
determination and on a more even playing field. Meanwhile, the 380
shareholder actions initiated by our unions this year to hold corporations
accountable did meet with unprecedented success that we must build upon.
We have begun to reorganize our labor movement from top to bottom and
created a vibrant new labor movement at the grassroots * perhaps our most
important accomplishment. Thousands of new union activists are involved in
every aspect of our efforts, from contract campaigns like Verizon, to
organizing campaigns like Cintas, to issue campaigns like FTAA and the Bush
administration's overtime pay cuts. We have reached out in new ways like
the Internet, developing hundreds of thousands of new activists, and in old
ways * taking our fights to our communities as never before, forging new
alliances and strengthening cherished ones. We've united the labor
movement to take a strong stand for immigrant workers' rights. We have
inspired a new generation of young people through our work on college
campuses and with Union Summer. And now we are adding many more voices
through the creation of Working America.
But while we have put forth the road map, laid down the challenge, and made
it our priority, we've got lots of work ahead to grow and strengthen the
labor movement * all of which will require an unprecedented level of union
The fight for good jobs, affordable, quality health care for all, secure,
defined benefit pensions, civil and workers' rights and workers' freedom to
form unions has never been more urgent.
When I ran for the presidency in 1995, I said that we constantly have to
critique ourselves, and I think we should devote some real energy to doing
There are a number of things I personally believe we have to do.
We have to escalate our efforts to confront America with its own human
rights crisis, the destruction of American workers' freedom to form
unions. And then we have to build a national campaign into a movement
across our society to restore that fundamental human right for America's
workers, including winning new legislative protections. We have to
escalate our capacity at every level to grow the labor movement. We must
mobilize a still-larger force of organizers and allies and give the growing
number of unions that are changing to organize the tools necessary to be
successful. We must continue to hold up models of change and challenge
every national union, state federation and central labor council to
organize and grow. We must move change across every line and at every
level. We must take on larger-scale non-union companies and continue to
move staff and financial resources to unions and campaigns that are
ambitious, large and strategic * such as UNITE's Cintas campaign, the
Ironworkers' campaign at J.D. Steele, the IBT's campaign with waste, the
UAW's auto parts organizing, CWA's Comcast campaign, AFT's and UAW's
graduate employee organizing and GCIU's campaign at Quebecor.
We must take the lead in forging a true industrial policy for America with
trade, tax and other policies that create a level playing field for U.S.
workers and industry, stops the hemorrhaging of middle class manufacturing
jobs that are the backbone of this country, creates new high value-added
jobs in sustainable industries and grows our industrial sector.
We must get aggressive to stem the unacceptable, rising costs of health
care that are sabotaging working families and companies, and extend
quality, affordable health care to every man, woman and child in
America. Until we address the health care crisis, non-union employers will
continue to drive standards down and good jobs out of our communities.
We must make retirement security non-negotiable, promoting and saving the
guaranteed benefits in our defined benefit pension system and Social
Security. And we must expand the fronts on which we fight to make workers'
money work for them through capital stewardship initiatives.
We must win new rights for immigrant workers to stop their shameless
exploitation and lift up our work for civil rights and voting rights to
ensure that no worker in America lacks fundamental protections and no
person in our society lacks a voice.
This is certainly not the complete list of what we should do. This is a
conversation I look forward to continuing together. I want to take to the
delegates at the convention our best thinking as leaders on how we can
build on our accomplishments and how we can continue to move forward together.
But in the coming 14 months, between now and the national elections, we
must be focused on electing a real champion for working families as
President of the United States. This goal deserves our unity and singular
Let me raise one final matter. In New York at the 1995 convention, I
said, in response to a question, that I would not run again after I turned
70 * which I will do next spring. I am not running away from that
remark. But I do believe that the best way to carry on the good work we
have begun together is to proceed with confidence in our direction. And so
I intend to ask the delegates to understand and to support me, Rich and
Linda * together with you.
On a personal note, let me say, on behalf of Rich and Linda, how much I
appreciate the support that you have shown us during these past eight
years. They have been challenging, but I think we should all be proud of
what we have done together.
Thank you for the good work and the leadership you provide every day.