For those of you just joining in the fun here at "The Gods Are Bored," you should know that I am a dyed-in-the-wool supporter of organized labor. I want to be buried with my union card in my cold, dead hand. United we bargain, divided we beg. Therefore it was with great happiness and anticipation that I got up this morning and headed into Philadelphia for the AFL-CIO Unity Summit.
Every four years the AFL-CIO has a whopper of a convention, and I guess it's just about like any other convention, with lots of people cheering and saying all the right things. This year's convention is in Philadelphia, which is a neat 20 minute train ride from my door. Joy!
Except the convention starts on Sunday, and the Unity Summit was on Saturday.
If the date wasn't tip-off enough, the invitation I got to this Unity Summit was just another email to my inbox with a link to register. Just out of curiosity (to see how much it cost to attend), I filled out the registration. Turns out it was free, with lunch provided.
Better yet, there was a whole day of speakers scheduled for the Unity Summit, and there was a breakout seminar called "Next Gen Organizing" having to do with bringing more young people into the labor movement.
To say I had high expectations for this bash was an understatement. Philadelphia is a union city. Our Labor Day parade is impressive. My first thought was how long I might have to stand in line before I could get my registration badge.
The first tip-off that my expectations were about to be shattered was how long it took me to get my registration badge. I walked right up.
The festivities were scheduled for a ballroom on the top floor of the Convention Center. And the last time I was in that space was at Netroots Nation in 2019. Elizabeth Warren was one of the speakers that day, and the freaking Fire Marshal was at the door because of the crowd.
Today the Fire Marshal must have been home with his feet propped up, drinking his coffee and placing a few online wagers. When I say that ballroom was sparsely populated, I mean it was embarrassingly empty, considering the heft of the AFL-CIO.
To make matters more depressing, the speakers were outstanding. They all had rousing messages about battling voter suppression and systemic racism, and one or two of them mentioned in passing that Amazon and Starbucks workers were organizing here and there ...
Over the past six months, about the only good news was that workers had successfully organized an Amazon warehouse and numerous local Starbucks stores. To me this is huge. It's the future of the labor movement, and the AFL-CIO should be all over it. In fact, I expected "Next Gen Organizing" to feature some of these brave people from Amazon and Starbucks. Nope.
So there I sat in a dark, cavernous ballroom, watching enthusiastic speakers dish out heaping helpings of platitudes to empty tables.
Worst part was that the "Next Gen" segment featured people who were indeed young, but they were also children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren of union members who happened to go into the organizing business. Which is what it seemed like - a business.
All of this I can forgive, because solidarity. But you know what is unforgivable? There was no swag. Dang! What's a convention without swag?
(Well, I think some people got some swag, but all I got was an N95 mask I had to put on right away, and two Covid testing kits as I left.)
The whole thing reminded me of how the administration in my school district celebrates National Teacher Week by giving each of us a bag with some random penny candy and a mini bottle of water.
Either go big or go home, that's my motto. The AFL-CIO could have thrown a gigantic party today at the Philadelphia Convention Center if they had just invited everyone who marches on Labor Day to come in their union t-shirts, gather in some swag, and have a nice lunch. The ballroom would at least have been populated. As it was, any oligarch who might have wandered into the Unity Summit could quickly conclude that the halcyon days of organized labor are over and done.
Don't get me wrong. The convention only gears up on Sunday, and rumor has it the president might drop in before it's over. So I'm sure that all the union muckity mucks from all over America will be descending.
But not the most important muckity mucks. Not the brave people stepping out of line at their workplaces to form bargaining units. Not the soldiers. Just the generals.
Oh well. The day wasn't completely lost. On my way back to the train I went through Reading Terminal Market and snagged a Beiler's doughnut.
Now I'm back in my lounge chair, having learned nothing about how to help those Starbucks baristas get unions in their shops.