Embattled U.S. union leaders met here Thursday and cast themselves as the defenders of the middle class, vowing to fight Republican attacks on teachers and government workers.
"There's a new generation of ideologues -I don't even want to call them Republicans -out there who want to strip us of our voices," said American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten.
"Our job is to take this moment and make an opportunity to re-energize the labour movement."
Republicans pushing to cut taxes, slash government services and undermine unions are pursuing an agenda that will benefit the rich and undermine the middle class, Weingarten said.
While many of these moves have proven unpopular with voters, Weingarten said Republicans are hoping the memory of current battles will fade by the time voters head to the polls in November 2012.
Unions cannot afford to let that happen, she told a conference organized in Detroit by the United Auto Workers (UAW) union.
Seizing on major gains in November's mid-term elections and eyeing next year's presidential race, Republicans in 37 states are pushing legislation to restrict bargaining rights and the unions' ability to collect dues.
The move is aimed at knocking down the most effective Republican opponents in regions critical to President Barack Obama's re-election, said Donna Brazile, a Democratic political consultant and strategist.
And the demonizing rhetoric aimed at teachers and public sector workers who've been called "greedy" and "lazy" is aimed at distracting voters from the real source of budgetary constraints, she said.
"They are blaming the public sector unions instead of huge tax cuts for the rich and unbridled financial manipulation for the mess we're in," Brazile said.
"We're under attack like we've never been under attack before," UAW president Bob King told members. "We have to build a people power movement."
He said the UAW is reaching out to faith groups, environmentalist, civil rights and immigration rights organizations to help resist the budget cuts and anti-union legislation.
Calgary Herald, Fri Mar 25 2011