IAM Set to ‘Blaze into the Future’ at Women’s, Young Workers and Human Rights Conference

From left, Voto Latino Vice President of Market and Partnerships Jessica Reeves; IAM International President Tom Buffenbarger; AFL-CIO Director for the Civil, Human and Women’s Rights Department Carmen Berkley; GetEQUAL Co-Director Angela Peoples and California Immigration Policy Center Government Affairs Manager Ronald Coleman participate in a panel on the opening day of the IAM Women’s, Young Workers and Human Rights Conference. (Bill Burke/Page One Photography)

The IAM’s next generation of leaders, eager to take the reins of a more diverse and dynamic IAM than ever before, gathered in San Juan, Puerto Rico to kick off the 2015 IAM Women’s, Young Workers and Human Rights Conference.

A backdrop of palm trees and ocean surf may be idyllic, but the more than 400 IAM activists here are planning to forever change the course of a 127-year-old union that IAM International President Tom Buffenbarger says is ready to “blaze into the future.”

Click here to view photos from the 2015 IAM Women’s, Young Workers and Human Rights Conference.

The IAM has already changed by leaps and bounds, noted Buffenbarger. The Executive Council now mirrors the diversity seen among the IAM’s nearly 600,000 active and retired members. Local leadership is occupied by more women and minorities than ever before. IAM General Vice President Diane Babineaux, who is African American, is hosting the conference.

“There were days in my time when I would go to conventions and there were very few women, very few people of color and very little diversity,” said Buffenbarger. “Today, you look like our union.”

The challenges facing these future leaders are immense. Politicians increasingly bow down to corporate interests at the expense of the middle class and the poor. Racial, religious and socioeconomic differences are used to divide working people. Labor organizations are continuously demonized.

But this union is up to the challenge, said IAM General Secretary-Treasurer Dora Cervantes, who recently became the first woman to hold that position in the IAM.

“I’m going to work with all of you to develop, grow and protect this organization,” said Cervantes, who cut her teeth as an organizer in the airline industry.

In Puerto Rico, IAM members and all working people have endured nine years of economic downturn. “I would call that a depression,” said Puerto Rico Sen. Ramón Luis Nieves, who helped welcome IAM members to the conference.

A series of so-called labor reforms have been proposed in the U.S. territory that would weaken the power of unions and lessen the bargaining power of working people.

“I have already made my decision. My vote will be no,” Nieves announced to rousing applause.

Puerto Rico IAM Business Representative José Rodríguez-Baez helped save a disorganized Puerto Rican labor movement in the late 1990s. Now he’s working to revive an island that has lost more than 300,000 people to migration in the last decade.

“We as workers refuse to give up our rights during this aggressive assault on working people,” said Rodríguez-Baez.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, the great-granddaughter of a sugar cane laborer, likened to the “Fighting Machinists” slogan often attached to IAM members. “They call me the fighting mayor!” said Cruz.

“I’m confident that after I leave office, unions like the IAM will continue to fight for the people who make this is a great place to be,” said Cruz.

The 2015 IAM Women’s, Young Workers and Human Rights Conference runs through Sunday, October 11. Speakers will include members of the IAM Executive Council, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, and other leaders from the IAM and across the labor movement. We’ll tackle tough issues like human trafficking, economic justice, and how we can organize for a better world – and we want your voice to be heard.

Here’s how you can get involved:

  • Download the IAMRight15 app to your smartphone or tablet. It’s available in the Apple App Store, Google Play, Blackberry World or Windows Store. You’ll find live video of conference speeches and plenaries, photos, social media updates and speaker bios. Conference attendees can receive alerts, customize their own agenda, take notes directly on the app and view maps of the hotel.

  • Use the #IAMRight15 hashtag to follow along and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter. We’ll be posting live from the Machinists Union Twitter page (@MachinistsUnion).