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Sunday, September 13, 2009

September 2009 Journal Article

President, John P. Sullivan

Changing of the Guard

September 13, 2009 The 26th AFL-CIO Constitutional Convention convened this afternoon in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This first day of the convention included the opening ceremony and a fond farewell to the retiring AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. Brother Sweeney served for four terms as president, capping over fifty years of service to the Labor Movement. The following includes material copied from the AFL-CIO website.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney’s Farewell Address

I’ve loved our labor movement all my life. There is no greater honor than the opportunity to serve working people, and the best thing about this job has been all of you. You are the magic of our movement, the source of my spirit and the iron will that moves us forward.

For us, solidarity is more than just a strategy; it’s a way of life. We believe in helping each other. We care about our brothers and sisters. Solidarity is what gives workers the collective courage to form a union, to fight back against a greedy employer.

Solidarity is what compelled thousands of first responders and construction workers to risk their lives at Ground Zero eight years ago last Friday. Solidarity is what saved 155 airline passengers who could have drowned in the icy waters of the Hudson River. Solidarity is what compels a firefighter to dive into an inferno to save a stranger, a teacher to refuse to give up on a child or back off from a battle with a school board.

Your solidarity is what pulled us through when our federation split apart—you cared more about our common purpose than your own self-interest—and proved that: “We are many, we are one.”

The Incoming President

Brother John Sweeney will be succeeded by the current AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer, Brother Richard L. Trumka. Born July 24, 1949, Trumka grew up in the Pennsylvania coalfields and became a third generation miner. He worked in the mines for more than seven years, working his way through Penn State and Villanova University Law School. After graduation Trumka worked on the legal staff of the Mine Workers for four years before returning to the mines in 1979. In 1982, Bro. Richard L. Trumka led a reform slate and was elected, at age 33, as the UMWA’s youngest president. He served for thirteen years before being elected as the AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer.

As president of the UMWA, Brother Trumka led one of the most successful strikes in American history against the Pittston Coal Co., which tried to avoid paying into an industry-wide health and pension fund. Breaking with decades of tradition, Trumka applied non-violence and civil disobedience tactics throughout the strike.

Brother Trumka mobilized international support by building alliances with miners in Australia, South Africa, Europe, Scandanavia and other countries to join the union’s fight. Trumka pioneered the use of strategic comprehensive campaigns by unions—building coalitions and alliances with other unions and nonprofit advocacy groups to strengthen the Mine Workers’ cause and reaching out to Wall Street investors. Ultimately, he overcame hundreds of millions in federal court-ordered fines against the union to win the Pittston Coal strike, and then doggedly appealed the fines until the U.S. Supreme Court finally overruled them.

I believe that we have been well served by Brother John Sweeney. I am confident that Brother Richard L. Trumka will prove to be one of the most forceful and imaginative presidents ever to lead the Labor Movement.


  1. John, I really enjoyed your Aug 09 message. I think that you should if possible, stay focused on our local in the 602 news letter and refer to your other articles ( web sites ) in your 602 news letter page. Thanks for all you do for our local. Kevin Knighton

  2. Thank you Kevin,

    One of the things that I have struggled with over the years is how to get our members to view the bigger picture of the Labor Movement. I entitled my column "Solidarity" for a very definite reason.

    None of us in the Labor Movement should ever feel that we are alone in our struggles. Many Local Unions have faced similar challenges.

    Most Local Unions are members of district, state, and regional councils. Most are members of an International. Through them we are affiliated with even larger bodies, such as the AFL-CIO.

    I could have belabored my column with much more history on the AFL-CIO. Certainly each new president from Meany to Kirkland to Sweeney has produced some changes to the Labor Movement but the election of President Trumka has the potential to make a marked difference on the national scene for Labor.

    To you personally, I can say, study this man, understand his upbringing, and his training and I know that yoy will. To most of our members all I can do is to make a polite introduction and hope that they will know over time that the AFL-CIO has recommitted to make a difference. The Labor Movement can not continue to shrink. I believe that President Trumka can reverse our trends.

    Again, thank you for your concern. It is the one quality that I hold highest amongst Brothers and Sisters.