AFT convention celebrates history, vision for future
Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota, welcome delegates to the American Federation of Teachers national convention in Minneapolis. Photo courtesy AFT
More than 3,000 delegates convened Monday at the Minneapolis Convention Center to celebrate 100 years of the American Federation of Teachers – and lay out a vision for the future of the 1.6-million-member union.
President Randi Weingarten gave the keynote address. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who has been endorsed by AFT, addressed the convention Monday evening.
Delegates were welcomed by Denise Specht, president ofEducation Minnesota, whose 70,000 members work in every aspect of public education in the state, from pre-kindergarten through higher education.
Throughout its history, the AFT has been at the juncture of key social, economic and civil rights movements, Weingarten said. “Democracy and fairness, education and economic prosperity … racial and social justice for all …”
She recalled the founding of the organization in 1916 in Chicago, where “union headquarters was a spare room in the financial secretary’s house.”
One hundred years ago, women didn’t have the right to vote. Legislation to outlaw lynching was routinely blocked. Child labor was legal. Teachers were forced to sign ‘yellow dog’ contracts promising they’d never join a union.
“So much of what we take for granted today took the work of people just like you, coming together demanding better,” Weingarten said. “We have done a lot, that to our founders would be inconceivable, but we made inevitable.”
The AFT grew from its original eight locals to 3,500 local unions with more than 1.6 million members.
While reflecting on the union’s success in promoting public education and raising the standards for educators and students, Weingarten said many challenges exist, including divisions and violence in American society.
“There are 33,000 gun deaths in the United States each year …” Weingarten said, then added, to loud applause, “Should it really be easier to get an assault weapon than to get a driver’s license or to register to vote? We should never accept that mass murder and indiscriminate killing are the new normal.”
Many Americans are struggling economically and looking for solutions, Weingarten said.
“Underlying the anger that people are feeling are aspirations for a better life and those aspirations compel us to act.”
Clinton arrived at the convention to a thunderous ovation. She praised the work of the AFT and of educators in general.
"Thank you for caring for all children - no matter what they look like, where they come from or who they are," she said. Clinton also expressed her support for unions, adding, "We need to be serious about raising wages for teachers and support staff."AFT convention celebrates history, vision for future | Workday Minnesota:
AFT President Randi Weingarten said the union will build on a 100-year legacy of activism. Photo courtesy of AFT