Change-to-Win has no shortage of talent to implement its ambitious goals. Anna Burger, former Secretary-Treasurer of the SEIU and daughter of a Teamster, was elected Chairwoman of the new federation, giving her the honor to be the first woman ever elected to head a major labor federation. In her speech to the convention she railed against what she termed “the American Nightmare…choosing between bus-fare and breakfast, health-care or housing.” She pointed out how during Hurricane Katrina, “the working poor were left to fend for themselves. They struggled and many died as the flood waters rose because thy couldn’t afford the gas or bus fare to get out of town.” The solution she proposes is articulated in one word. Organize.

Following Anna Burger’s speech, Teamster president James P. Hoffa was greeted with rousing applause and chants of “Hof-fa, Hof-fa,” reminiscent of the era of his father, James R. While the younger Hoffa varies considerably in style from his iconic patriarch, his willingness to break with the AFL-CIO demonstrates that he possesses the same combination of fearlessness and innovation which served the Teamsters so well under his father. He also seems to have inherited the old man’s inherent mistrust of political parties. “Who got the first no-bid contract [to rebuild the Gulf Coast],” he asked the convention. “That’s right, Halliburton…and what was George Bush’s first action in the devastated region: to repeal Davis-Bacon. That means Halliburton won’t have to pay construction workers thirteen bucks an hour.” He concluded with a promise, “Today the battle for America begins.”

Speeches by Bruce Raynor, Andy Stern, John Wilhelm and Joe Hansen were equally powerful, and all underscored the common goal of Change-to-Win: to turn the working poor into the middle-class, to “give America back to the people who built it.” In order to accomplish this, they say, certain guiding principles will be followed, such as the empowerment of women, people of color, and immigrant workers. Worker involvement in political action, whether it be at the state, local or national level, is encouraged because, as John Wilhelm of UNITE HERE told the group, “At the end of the day, most politicians will turn out to be unreliable.” Change-to-Win vows to not support any candidate that does not demonstrate their loyalty to labor, regardless of political party.

But their core principle, their “North Star,” is organizing new members, with three-quarters of their resources going into this effort.

Representing the western New York area at the St Louis convention was Teamsters local 264 business manager Richard Lipsitz, who wanted to make an important clarification with regard to the impact that the Teamster move might be making locally. “I want to stress that we are not at war with our colleagues at the WNY labor federation (AFL-CIO)…Not even close.” When asked for a prediction on how Change-to-Win might affect the future of Western New York, Lipsitz gave an answer that concisely summed it up, both locally and nationally.

“It remains to be seen.” By S. A. Aprile

Inaugurating a new era in American labor history, the Change-to-Win federation of labor unions held its founding convention in St. Louis on August 27. The convention capped a summer-long exodus of four of labor’s most progressive and activist unions from the formerly monolithic AFL-CIO: the Service Employees International Union, UNITE HERE, the Teamsters, and the United Food and Commercial Workers. Their departure represents a loss to the AFL-CIO of nearly one-third of its membership and nearly $30 million per year in revenue.

Uniting with the rebel unions to comprise Change-to-Win are also the Carpenters (UBC), who left the AFL-CIO in 2001, as well as the Laborers (LIUNA) and the United Farm Workers (UFW). Together at the Renaissance Grand Hotel in St. Louis, this “G-7” group of diverse unions pledged to dedicate substantial resources to core-industry organizing drives (Wal-Mart is a major target), as well as cooperative campaigns to leverage each other’s strengths. Their allocation of dollars specifically ear-marked for organizing represents a significant departure from AFL-CIO fiscal philosophy, which instead advocates that a large portion of member dues go instead to the two major political parties.