Sunday August 18, 2019
| Last update: Saturday at 1:21 PM

Meeting the Challenge Conference Unites Trade Unionists

by Mike Hazard and staff |
April 2, 1999
Read more articles in

St. Paul, MN - A standing room only crowd filled Weyerhaeuser Chapel at Macalester College on February 12 and 13. The seventh annual Meeting the Challenge Conference attracted hundreds of labor activists and their supporters. Participants heard about key labor struggles, management attacks, and discussed the growing upsurge in the labor movement.

The Solidarity Kids' Theater kicked off the Friday night program. The children of union members wowed the crowd with skits they wrote and performed on their own. The hard-hitting skits exposed how the harsh reality of global capitalism impacts on children around the world. The performance received a lengthy standing ovation.

Following that, reports from several important struggles were highlighted with a panel. Speakers included Staughton Lynd, of the Ohio's Youngstown Workers Solidarity Club and Rafael Bernabe, President of the Puerto Rican Union of Professors.

In a far-ranging talk that outlined the failure of capitalism to meet human needs, Lynd linked local issues of privatization to changes in world capitalism. Noting the lack of access to health care in the U.S., as well as poverty and underdevelopment in much of the world, Lynd called for a vision of socialism which dares to think of a better way of life.

With privatization and the struggle against it as a main theme of the Conference, remarks by Rafael Bernabe inspired the audience. He described the fight in Puerto Rico to stop the privatization of the public telephone system. The struggle of telephone workers generated a huge outpouring of public support, and triggered a general strike this past summer. Bernabe characterized the strike as the biggest labor fight in Puerto Rico since the 1930s.

Other speakers Friday night included Anne Meyer, a Teamster and Northwest Airlines flight attendant, who spoke on their continuing campaign to win a fair contract, and Mark Soderstrom from the University of MN Graduate Student Union. President of the Atlanta Central Labor Union, Stewart Acuff, talked about transforming that organization into a more militant body.

Saturday kicked off with remarks by Peter Rachleff, professor and labor activist who framed the threat of privatization as a broad problem impacting the whole economy.

He was followed by experts on privatization and deregulation, workers who are experiencing it, including members or representatives of the Iowa State Postal Union, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the International Association of Machinists Local 1833, and others.

The speakers pointed out that as long as corporate America sets the agenda, the public will suffer.

The afternoon session, focused on solutions to the problems caused by privatization and deregulation. Rafael Bernabe described in more detail the militancy shown by the population of Puerto Rico last summer in its opposition to privatization of the telephone system; and Stewart Acuff told of the successful fight waged by skilled trades workers in Atlanta to ensure the work at the 1996 Olympics was done by union labor.

"The conference was excellent," said Steff Yorek, a steward in AFSCME Local 1164. "The process of coming together, learning from each other, and discussing different ways to fight back was invaluable."

inspectorrandoness