Delegates wrapped up final business of the historic 2008 Constitutional Convention and headed home filled with energy to fight for a better tomorrow for working families in the United States and Canada.
In Las Vegas, International President Leo W. Gerard praised the delegates for their commitment and attendance during the four-day event that attracted 3,178 registered delegates from local unions in the United States and Canada.
“As your president, I couldn’t be more proud of you, our members who sent you here and our friends and allies,” Gerard said. “And I couldn’t be more humbled to know that we have an awesome responsibility ahead of us.’’
All told, more than 4,500 delegates and observers from the United States, Canada and elsewhere attended, including 77 international guests from more than 20 countries.
The convention officially closed with delegates standing together and singing “Solidarity Forever,” the labor movement anthem.
If we work hard toward our goals, including electing Democrat Barack Obama as the next president of the United States, Gerard said we will soon begin to see the kind of change and progress that working families need.
“At some point next year, we’ll be able to feel the world is changing and we really are on the path toward giving a better society to our kids and grand kids,’’ Gerard told the delegates.
“This is no longer about us. This is about the kind of future our generation wants to pass on,” he added. “We cannot fail. We cannot falter. Your kids, your community and your planet are counting on you, and I appreciate everything you do every day.”
The final day of the convention started with a few unusual moments of silence as delegates posed for a panoramic photograph of the huge convention hall.
Delegates also stood in silence later in the morning as they watched a video scroll of the names of our brothers and sisters killed on the job since the last convention three years earlier.
Rank-and-file speakers told of shop floor accidents and the lifelong impact these losses have on co-workers and family members. Heartfelt thanks were offered to our Emergency Response Team for their help with accident investigations and aid to the families of members injured or killed.
Also on the last day, Gerard announced that a fund-raising raffle for the Harley Davidson motorcycle owned by late International President George Becker raised $350,000 to benefit the George Becker Leadership Development Fund. The winning ticket was held by Sandra Forrer of Local 1150 in Ohio.
Overall, the four-day convention was remarkable for the signing of an agreement to form the first global union and a decision by delegates to bolster the union’s Strike and Defense Fund by passing a modest dues increase.
The new union, Workers Uniting, will draw on the energies of two great unions, the USW and Unite the Union in the United Kingdom.
“This union is crucial for challenging the growing power of global capital,” Gerard said. “Globalization has given financiers license to exploit workers in developing countries at the expense of our members in the developed world. Only global solidarity among workers can overcome this sort of global exploitation wherever it occurs.”
Delegates also created a new position of International Vice President – at Large, which was filled, for the first time in the union’s history, by Canadian union activist Carol Landry.
They heard former U.S. Sen. John Edwards, our union’s first endorsed candidate for president, urge delegates to reject John McCain’s bid for a third George Bush term. And they heard Obama pledge by satellite feed to support working families.
Obama condemned the Bush administration for its blatantly anti-worker values. He was greeted with thundering applause when he said flatly: “This is the most anti- labor administration in our memory. Well, we’ve got news for them. It’s not the Department of Management; it’s the Department of Labor.”
While acknowledging McCain’s service to country, Obama contested the Republican’s recent claim to be an agent of change. “It’s not change,” Obama asserted, “when John McCain decides to stand for George Bush 95 percent of the time as he did last year.
“Let me tell what change is. It is understanding the struggles of working people. It means giving the middle class a tax cut and putting a college degree within reach,” he said.