Las Vegas (CNSNews.com) - Organized labor's top man says there is a "conservative conspiracy" against America's working men and women.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, addressing the 24th biennial convention in Las Vegas, also referred to the GOP's "sleaziness," and he called Republicans' economic policies since the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks "sickening."
Sweeney told CNSNews.com, "I think there is a conservative conspiracy going on in the Congress, especially the House of Representatives. We are bailing out the airline industry and bailing out the insurance industry, but we can't provide workers protection?"
The AFL-CIO is the largest organized labor group in the US, representing 13 million workers. The four-day conference is being held at the Paris Casino Hotel.
Enemies of the working man
Sweeney said Republicans are not helping America's labor force "because they are not concerned about workers -- they probably have never been unemployed."
He added, "They don't know the suffering and sacrifice that hundreds of thousands of workers are going through in this troubled time."
During his address to the 1,000 delegates gathered for Monday's opening-night ceremony, Sweeney decried conservatives as the enemies of the working man.
"While our sinking economy cries out for lifelines, conservatives in Congress are competing over ways to shell out tax breaks for big corporations and the wealthy," he said.
"The sleaziness of the Republicans in the House is the shame of the nation," he proclaimed. Sweeney received a nearly 30-second standing ovation from the convention crowd following that remark.
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) addressed the convention live via satellite from Washington. She said the political climate in Washington has shifted in favor of a stronger government.
"There were a lot of politicians who actually built their careers on being anti-government, and too many candidates and public officials chose to beat up on employees and union members, trying to label [them] as somehow outside the American mainstream. Well, that is a lot harder to do now," she said.
"The people who were running towards the Pentagaon and WTC on September 11 -- they were union members," she explained.
Sen. Clinton added, "I almost feel sorry for politicians who make their career out of beating up on government workers and union members. I don't know who they are going to pick on now, although I guess I am still a likely candidate."
She contrasted her husband's economic policies with those of President Bush. "I came from the Clinton school of economics, where you keep building jobs and investing in people," she commented.
GOP should thank bin Laden?
Ron Richardson, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO affiliate here (the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees International Union), believes that the Republicans should be grateful to Osama bin Laden for enabling their political agenda to succeed.
"Somebody should paint a picture of a couple of these Republican leaders sitting on the knees of Santa Claus saying, 'Thank you for giving us everything we always wanted,' and Santa Claus's face would be that of bin Laden," he told CNSNews.com.
Richardson explained, "There is (sic) some disgustingly insane things going on right now with the Republicans. They are using 9-11 to get everything that they were never able to get any other way. They want to get tax breaks for their richest constituents; they want to be able to take away civil rights. I think it's been reprehensible."
He said that Bush's economic plan will "hurt working people and make the economy worse and harm the country."
Danny Thompson, executive secretary of the Nevada AFL-CIO, referred to the "Bush recession" and how it is "taking a terrible toll on Las Vegas."
Linda Chavez-Thompson, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO, compared the public officials who oppose organized labor's political agenda to the terrorists who attacked America.
"We have not been taken down by the terrorists, nor will we be taken down by those politicians who don't care about working families," she told CNSNews.com.
She added, "We are not going to sit still when the policies of Washington do not address the needs of workers."
The National Right to Work Committee (NRTW), a non-profit group opposed to mandatory union membership, has accused the AFL-CIO of being a lobbying arm of the Democratic Party.
NRTW's website says, "Compulsory unionism is primarily responsible for the tax-and-spend policies of the U.S. Congress. Under their federally-granted coercive powers, union officials collect some $4.5 billion annually in compulsory dues and funnel much of it into unreported campaign operations to elect and control congressional majorities dedicated to higher taxes and increased government spending."
According to a study by the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based government watchdog group, more than 94 percent of organized labors' $83 million dollars in political spending benefited Democratic candidates in the 2000 elections.
Exit polls of the 2000 presidential election showed that 40 percent of union electorate chose George Bush.
Scott Van Bergen of NRTW asked, "Why won't union officials bring their radical political stances more in line with the views of rank-and-file members they claim to represent?"
Amnesty for illegal immigrants?
Another agenda item at this week's convention involves the question of whether the AFL-CIO will affirm the decision by its Executive Council to call on the federal government to grant amnesty for all illegal immigrants and end the ban on hiring illegal immigrants.
According to AFL-CIO official Richardson, "The AFL-CIO is very clear: Amnesty is important, we need to protect the rights of immigrants. Given some of the backlash (since Sept. 11), it is even more important that we continue in that direction."