John Sweeney

Excerpts from a Monitor breakfast on union issues.

John Sweeney has been president of the American Federation of Labor - Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) since October 1995. He has been re-elected twice.

The AFL-CIO is a voluntary federation of 65 national and international unions.

Before leading the AFL-CIO, Sweeney was president of the fast-growing Service Employees International Union.

On the US economic outlook:

"From the perspective of working families, the economy is failing on jobs, wages, access to benefits like healthcare, and guaranteed retirement savings. Protecting and improving these core rights is not on the Republican agenda. And we are fighting to make them part of the debate.

The Republicans are going after the most fundamental rights of workers - the 40-hour workweek, with the worst attack on the Fair Labor Standards Act that we have seen. We are aggressively lobbying against their proposal in Congress to take away mandatory overtime and replace it with comp. time."

On whether tax cuts proposed by President Bush are inevitable:

"It looks that way.... I think it is really obscene to be wiping out our surplus and to be focused on improvements in tax policy for the wealthiest people in our country and for the corporations.

When the president made his statement on Saturday in support of the tax changes, he emphasized how much of this is going to go back to workers and how much of it would be spent by consumers and how this would really increase employment and create new jobs. Well, that didn't happen two years ago and it is not going to happen this time."

On charges that opposing the Bush tax plan is engaging in class warfare:

"If representing poor people and working on improvements in programs for middle class is class warfare, I am happy to be a class warfare person."

On narrowing the crowded field of Democratic presidential candidates:

"I think that there will be some drop-off with some of the candidates early on. Some of them are not going to have the resources, some of them aren't going to do well in the vote, my prediction."

On those who say the union movement is in its twilight:

"I certainly believe they are wrong. I believe things are turning around. While it is true we have an administration from the presidency through the Congress that has basically been antiworker and certainly anti-union, this too shall pass.

Over the past five or six years we have seen some significant changes, the involvement of our members at the grass-roots level has increased substantially. The amount of organizing that is going on is substantial. We have not been able to keep up with the employment picture. If you look at the manufacturing industries over the past two years we have seen two million jobs in manufacturing that have [been] abolished. There is growth in service sector and other area...."

On the Bush educational program as an issue for labor:

"It is certainly a major issue. The fact of the matter is that for all the president has said about education, he hasn't put the money up for an education program. While he is saying 'no child left behind,' it is more 'no CEO left behind' with his tax policies."

On the race for campaign funds:

"We are never going to be able to match the resources, financial resources of the Republican Party or the conservatives in our country. Our real power is our people power, our rank and file members...."

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