Texas labor: ready to come out fighting Austin On the surface, the Texas AFL-CIO convention held in Austin July 25-28 was another of those placid affairs we’ve grown accustomed to since Harry Hubbard wrested the state labor federation’s presidency from Roy Evans six years ago. Hubbard was re-elected without oppositiona foregone conclusionand secretary-treasurer Joe Gunn, appointed to the number two job early this year \(Obs., unopposed for a two-year term. There was no controversy to speak of over convention resolutions. Thirty-odd “rousing side-by-side with labor speeches,” as convention publicists hopefully described them, dominated the formal agenda. But the real agenda for this convention was far from routine. The question before the 1,000-plus delegates, representing 265,000 trade unionists, was what role the Texas labor movement will play in state politics next year and beyond. And they answered it by approving an ambitious strategy to break the conservative grip on state government. The immediate objective is to oust 20 or more conservative state representatives and four or five conservative state senators and elect liberals and moderates in their place. Such a turnover would give progressives in the 1981 Legislature decisive influence over the redistricting of both state legislative and U.S. congressional seats. The ultimate goal of this legislative program, dubbed “Eyes on the 80s,” Hubbard told the delegates, is “once and for all [to] end the domination of our Legislature by, senators and House members who never met a union officer before they were elected.” Hubbard’s organization is ready to spend $480,000 to make the plan work. Of that amount, $180,000 will.go for the targeting of districts where labor-backed Democrats would run strongest and for efforts to get out the vote. Another $220,000 is earmarked for direct contributions from labor political action committees to the candidates in those key primary races. And AFL-CIO strategists contemplate spending $80,000 more if need be in the November general election. The factor that makes labor’s estimate of the political possibilities realistic is the expected flight of the closet Republicans to the Republican presidential primary next year, leaving the Democratic primary ballot to the real Democrats for a change Texas labor has seen before, and the AFL-CIO means to make the most of it. Some state officeholders are coming around to the same view of what next year’s elections portend, and one of them, state comptroller Bob Bullock, has evidently concluded that it won’t hurt his political future to embrace a cause labor holds dear. Bullock endorsed state employee unionization in ringing terms in his address to the AFL-CIO delegates. Decrying the state’s failure to pay its workers enough to keep up with inflation, Bullock said, “The public employees of Texas, the people who keep this state running, need a real friend. . . . They need to be represented by the Texas AFL-CIO. . . . If you’ll consider organizing the 169,000 state employees of Texas, I’ll be the first state official to recognize an AFL-CIO union. . . .” In fact, labor wasn’t waiting for an invitationthe American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, an AFL-CIO union that already represents many city workers in Texas and has successfully organized state employees in other states, has had a major organizing drive under way among state government workers in Austin for some time. Thanks in part to Bullock’s encouragement, AFSCME’s effort is beginning to bear fruithundreds of state employees have been coming to union meetings and going back to talk up unionization at the office. Real collective bargaining for state employees is, of course, a long way offsome laws will have to change and some elective offices will have to change hands first. But Bullock’s willingness to come out publicly for unionization now is a clear signal that a pro-labor stance is becoming good politics, not political suicide, for officeholders who hope to survive in the changing Democratic Party. The buoyant mood of the delegates in this new, more favorable political climate was apparent from their varying responses to the politicos who appeared at the podium. Bullock, of course, got an ovation. So did Harvey Gardner, a leader of the American Agriculture Movement from Oklahoma, for his proposal of a farmer-labor alliance. The best reception of all was accorded to Ralph Yarborough when he denounced John Connally, whom he termed “the main protagonist behind” the split primary campaign, as “that backward, back-stabbin’, turncoat fugitive from Watergate.” In contrast, Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby, who pushed the proConnally primary scheme, got “polite applause, plus a standing ovation from two or three guys at the back of the hall,” as one delegate put it. Agriculture commissioner Reagan Brown fared worse, thanks to his widely publicized utterance of ethnic slurs a few weeks before. \(“There are more niggers on a Houston street than there are farmers in Texas,” he told a delegation of AAM leaders; he also called one of the farm spokesmen a very well for him to apologize, but they didn’t have to sit and listen to him; some stayed away and some got up and left when he rose to speak. Democratic National Committee chairman John White and Labor Secretary Ray Marshall got a nice hand more for their own friendship with labor than for their stout defense of President Carter, if a poll taken at the convention is any guide: 55.4 percent of the 600 or so delegates polled said they preferred Kennedy in 1980, while just 36.7 percent named Carter. The pro-Kennedy undercurrent, the discriminating responses to protestations of good will from the platform, the Bullockendorsed organizing drive, and the “Eyes on the 80s” program are all parts of the same phenomenona newly assertive Texas AFL-CIO ready to bring its weight to bear as the strongest force on the progressive side in Texas politics. E.H. 14 AUGUST 10, 1979
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