The Future is Now!

Guest Commentary

Volume CIV, No. 10October, 2004

Denis Hughes
President of the New York State AFL-CIO

President Hughes delivered the following speech to the 700 delegates and guests attending the 30th Constitutional Convention of the New York State AFL-CIO following his reelection on Aug. 9, 2004.

Who could have imagined, when we last met four years ago, all that we would have experienced since the year 2000? When we last met, the sky was the limit. We were optimistic about all that the future held for us. The events of the last four years have given us a rude awakening.

Our nation saw the election (or, as some would say, the “selection”) of George W. Bush for the office of president.

In New York, we experienced, first hand, the horror of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 and the aftermath.

The subsequent war in Iraq has changed our nation and has caused turmoil at home and abroad.

And, to add insult to injury, working men and women have faced constant, coordinated, and unrelenting attacks on our livelihood from corporate giants like Wal-Mart and Cintas, while under the watchful eye and supportive actions of the Bush Administration.

But, through all of these hard times, and they have been hard times, we have learned something about ourselves as individuals and as a labor movement.

We learned that, together, we can stand up to adversity.

We found that we could meet any and all challenges we face, whether expected or unexpected.

We remembered that, when we work together toward a common goal, we can prevail.

We have prevailed.

We have made great accomplishments together since 2000.

We have done an admirable job of mapping out strategy and putting ourselves in the position to succeed.

As a result, we have found success, legislatively, politically, and in organizing.


While we haven’t achieved all that we had hoped to, our legislative victories have been great.

We secured card check recognition and neutrality for workers in Indian nation casinos.

We also secured card check for employees within the jurisdiction of the State Employee Relations Board.

We were instrumental in the passage of the “Misuse of Public Funds” bill, which stopped employers from using tax dollars to beat back organizing drives.

Each of these victories is important, allowing workers the right to join unions and making the labor movement stronger.

Our political victories have been substantial as well. We led a coordinated grassroots effort to override budget vetoes last year. As a result of our hard work, $2 billion was restored to the state budget and thousands of jobs were saved.

We also coordinated labor’s efforts to secure $20 billion in federal funding to help rebuild New York City and support New York State after the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks.

Ground Zero rescue, recovery, and relief workers now have a Medical Monitoring Program financed by the $89 million in federal funds that we helped to raise.

Our work continues to help workers across New York State in many different ways.


We have grown internally, as well. With your help, the New York State AFL-CIO was the first state federation in the country to implement the New Alliance Initiative.

As a result, we were able to change the organizational structure of the state labor movement. This restructuring makes us better able to coordinate legislative, political, and organizing strategies. Its implementation has been nothing but positive for New York State’s labor movement.

The New York State AFL-CIO was proud to create its Entertainment Industry Committee. For the past three years, unions within this industry have worked together to show their support for each other in the state for the first time in our history. We can look proudly to the musicians’ victory on Broadway last year and Actors’ Equity’s victory this year as demonstrations of this committee’s hard work and solidarity.

We have built a strong foundation in New York State. Do you know how we accomplished all that we did? We stood together. We were united. We supported each other. And, we could not be broken. Each of you and all of our members are responsible for all that we have achieved in the past. I am confident that whatever we choose to do over the next four years, we will accomplish with great success because we have a track record of hard work, cooperation, and drive.

We have set important goals.

Taylor Law reform, procurement, affordable housing, the farmworkers’ day of rest, and workers’ compensation reform are each important to the strength of the labor movement and the protection of our workforce.

It won’t be easy because there are many fighting against us. There are entities working for our demise. They are trying to weaken us at every turn. We must remain steadfast in the face of their challenges to our existence.

We must also stand up and face the internal challenges that we face. I will be honest; I see things, going forward, that concern me.

“Ethics” remain a topic of serious concern to us as a movement. And we all know it. We can’t fool each other and act as if there is nothing wrong. It is time for us to take the necessary actions regarding our behavior and conduct.

You elected me to sit up here and lead. I will, with your support, take the steps necessary to move us forward.

Solidarity is not a slogan, it is a strategy. We must be prepared and get our plan in place.

What kind of movement do we want this to be? What legacy do we want to leave for the next generation of leaders? We need to decide what we want and then act to achieve our goals.

The only thing that can keep us from reaching our goals is our own reluctance. The only thing that can halt our progress is a lack of resolve.

Brothers and sisters, this movement will prosper only when we work together. Without unity, we will crumble. Without solidarity, we will cease to exist. Without commitment, we will wither and die.

Brothers and sisters, we don’t have a moment to lose. This is our call to arms!

Brothers and sisters, the future is now!