At AFL-CIO convention: A diverse crowd, long journeys, high hopes

The quadrennial convention of the AFL-CIO. the nation’s largest labor federation, has attracted a diverse crowd from across the nation and around the world to the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Among the 5,000 scheduled to attend were day laborers from as far away as Florida and taxi drivers from New York City.

But there were also several international guests, including representatives from the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, trade unionists from Pakistan and representatives from the Myanmar Federation of Trade Unions.


Mohammed Zahoor Awan, general secretary of the Pakistan Workers Federation, said he came to share “brotherly feelings” and solidarity with the American labor movement.

Full coverage: AFL-CIO in Los Angeles

The convention also has brought together new allies such as the Sierra Club, the NAACP and the National Council of La Raza.

They came at a time when only about 11% of U.S. workers are unionized, according to the most recent figures available, down from 35% in 1950.

In particular, there is an attempt to attract and to elevate the status of domestic workers in the U.S. as a potential source of future strength and influence. That effort includes bringing together international domestic worker leadership from as far away as South Africa and Hong Kong.

“We are hoping that trade union leaders around the world will begin to recognize domestic workers as equals so that we can all fight together,” said Elizabeth Tang, 55, coordinator of the international Domestic Workers Network. Tang came to the convention from Hong Kong.

Myrtle Witbooi of Capetown, South Africa, chair of Tang’s organization, said she came to emphasize the fact that “domestic workers are just like any other workers, and deserving of the same rights and respect.”

Witbooi said another goal was to build support for C189, the international Convention of rights concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers.


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