Monday, January 14, 2008

AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Speaks at Cornell ILR School

On January 11, Arlene Holt Baker, the new Executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO, gave an informative and inspiring speech at the Cornell ILR School in Manhattan.

Ms. Holt Baker, who has been a union and community organizer for over thirty years, was approved by the AFL-CIO Executive Council on September 21, 2007 to be Executive Vice President, becoming not only the highest-ranking woman in the union movement but also becomes the first African American to be appointed to one of the three highest offices in the AFL-CIO.

Ms. Holt Baker began her union work with AFSCME and worked her way through the union ranks from organizer to international union director. In 1995, Holt Baker went to the AFL-CIO as executive assistant to the Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson. As the first director of the AFL-CIO Voice at Work campaign in 1999, she launched an active movement to bring together community leaders, clergy members, farm workers and elected official and others in support of the workers’ right to form unions. After leaving the AFL-CIO for a couple of years to serve as President of the Voices of Working Families (a nonpartisan organization effort which registered thousands of women and people of color to vote), Ms. Holt Baker returned to the AFL-CIO in 2006 to lead the Gulf Coast Recovery effort.

In her speech Ms. Holt Baker was informative on the issues of immigration, healthcare, African American unemployment rates and the need to organize for the upcoming presidential election this year. Ms. Holt Baker pointed out the enormous challenges facing all working class people at this point in history. Ms. Holt Baker also talked about the plans for the AFL-CIO’s political and membership mobilization program, Labor 2008,which will be the largest political mobilization ever undertaken by the union movement with some 53 million dollars budgeted alone by the AFL-CIO for this election.

Her presentation was inspiring as she quoted Dr. King’s speech from the 1961 AFL-CIO convention, and reminded us all how the struggle for civil rights and workers’ rights were one and the same. She also noted that the only time that there has been change and progress in the United States is when people of diverse backgrounds have worked together. With Dr. King’s birthday approaching, it’s time we all recommit ourselves to the struggle for progress and change through the political process, community activism, union activism or whatever form of action you can take.

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