Subject : ON WORKERS AND
THE AMERICAN LABOR MOVEMENT TODAY: FROM THE CENTER FOR THE ADVANCED
STUDY OF AMERICAN INSTITUTIONS AND SOCIAL MOVEMENTS, GRENOBLE, FRANCE.
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16 October 2005
Dear Colleagues and Friends of CEIMSA,
The desperate quest for greater profits in the matrix of a diminishing
rate of returns requires extreme measures to guarantee investments of
ever increasing amounts of capital. These guarantees come in forms such
as political censorship, ideological manipulations, social
destabilization, bribing political leaders, and attacking authentic
democratic movements, etc., etc....
We at CEIMSA received the texts below and we offer them to our readers
as an antidote to the disinformation and fear mongering which serves to
protect the leitmotif of economic inequality and political injustice
that has become the mental wallpaper in the alienated lives of many
is a brief warning of a future of low-wages, as a result of the Central
American Free Trade Agreement
(CAFTA) that was signed by
President Bush in May 2004. (We offer also in this part links to
descriptions of sweatshops in
America and abroad.
In item B
New York sociologist Stanley Arronowitz describes the recent split
within the AFL-CIO and the historical significance of the division. (LaborWatch
at the Z
Magazine internet site is an invaluable source of information on the
labor movement in the U.S.)
is a series of six separate accounts of the AFL-CIO convention in
Chicago sent to us by Professor
who was a participant in this historic event last
summer and witnessed the democratic upsurge within organized labor.
Francis McCollum Feeley
Professor of American Studies/
Director of Research
Université Stendhal - Grenoble III
from Lee Louis
27 June 2005
By Lee Louis
The proposed Central American Free Trade Agreement
(CAFTA) was signed by President Bush on May 28, 2004. A year later the
Bush administration still has not brought it to a vote but plans to by
early July. The House and Senate began hearings in April, and the vote
has been expected to fall along partisan lines with only a few
Democrats in the House supporting it and a few Republicans from sugar-
and textile-producing states opposing it. It is clear from the debate
thus far that this vote will be a referendum on the success and
failures of NAFTA.
CAFTA has already been ratified by El Salvador,
Guatemala and Honduras despite huge protests and police violence. It is
evident that the people of Central America know that CAFTA, like its
predecessor NAFTA, will increase the divide between the rich and the
poor, making life more difficult for the majority of workers. The
maquiladoras that have opened because of NAFTA along the U.S.-Mexican
border have become a stark contrast to the high-wage manufacturing jobs
lost in the United States. With U.S. companies taking advantage of
sweatshop labor in a "race to the bottom" for the lowest wages,
undocumented immigration to the United States increases, in part due to
the actions of these multinational corporations.
As U.S. companies ask, "How low can we go in the
pursuit of profits?" when will the American people ask, "How much
longer are we going to allow this to happen?"
For more on sweatshop labor,
from Stanley Aronowitz :
August 19, 2005
On the AFL-CIO Split
In some respects
it was fitting that four important affiliates declared their withdrawal
from the AFL-CIO in
the days running
up to the 50th anniversary convention in July 2005. A merger which was
conceived in a
signified complacency was dissolved. The problem now is what can
workers expect from the
the defectors form a new federation? How can they fulfill their promise
to launch a massive
in the current reactionary political environment? And can an alliance
forces help revive the somnambulism that has afflicted labor’s ranks
for more than two
those who split the kind of leaders that are capable of calling on the
rank and file to mount
the ongoing corporate offensive against wages and working conditions?
And why should we
alliance to make a radical departure from the unimaginative program,
the Democratic Party that has marked the decade long record of the
To gain perspective on these questions we might find it useful to
revisit the moment of
merger. Such a look might clarify why Organized Labor has suffered such
the late 1970s and why, despite the growth of the Service Employees
president is the
main antagonist in the conflict, the rest of the unions, including
those that defected with
suffering the same stagnation and decline as most others.
years of separation, CIO president Walter Reuther who led the largest
of three very powerful
unions, the Auto Workers, brought some four and a half million CIO
members consisting of 20
unions back into the Federation. It was not a marriage made in
heaven. Having purged
Wing unions from the CIO, in which communists played an important role,
Reuther and his
unionists shared with the AFL many things: with almost no exceptions
they shared the fervent
Communism and particularly the Soviet Union was the root of all evil.
They were deeply
committed to the
permanent war economy because it was a leading post-war job machine as
well as a
ideological weapon that glued the labor movement to the priorities of
the war machine and a
also thwarted Labor’s reform agenda for a half century. Capitalism and
the large United
corporations that dominated it was, despite many conflicts with the
labor movement, considered
by many union
leaders as part of the Free World coalition of which Organized Labor
was a vital part.
But there was
still a residue of democratic values and even militancy in many CIO
affiliates which most
of the AFL
groups did not give a rat’s ass about. Many CIO leaders remained wary
of the merger,
pushed it through with minimum opposition. In the end, though, almost
all of them fell
in line. Almost
alone among CIO presidents, Michael J. Quill of the Transport Workers,
Cold War politics and internal purges of the Communists helped to set
the tone for the
erosion of union
democracy, stood up at the final CIO convention and warned delegates
that by seeking
peace with the
AFL they were betraying the militant, progressive legacy of their
merger would fail to sustain the forward march of Labor and voted
against it. Of course, the
leaders of the
major CIO affiliates ignored his warnings and proceeded to dissolve
their organization and
hand over the
leadership to a conservative building trades official, AFL president
George Meany. A few
days later the
two organizations which, at the time, represented more than a third of
the labor force,
became one and
Meany, a cold war hawk, was named president with Reuther as an
1950s, Reuther, who had distinguished himself by questioning whether
the auto corporations
needed to raise
prices in order to raise wages, became a relentless lobbyist for
defense contracts for
the Auto and
Farm Equipment corporations with which the UAW had collective
agreements. In the spirit
of the new
environment of labor/management cooperation, which pervaded leading
steel as well as Auto
least at the top), Reuther signed the first five year contract with the
departures from the past, the agreement contained a rigid no-strike
clause, in return for
arbitration to address workers’ grievances. Within a decade, under the
slogan of labor peace,
began to follow suit and signed long term agreements with employers.
Yet, the long road
from a grievance
to arbitration resulted in hundreds of unresolved complaints in General
Motors, Ford and
Workers were burdened by a corporate offensive on their hard-won
working conditions that was
spotlighted by a
company policy of speedup and draconian discipline, including arbitrary
By 1955, despite
relatively high wages and, in the wake of the defeat of national health
elements of a private welfare state that the UAW negotiated with
a high-flying management,
resentment was smoldering and soon broke out in a series of wildcat
strikes, even as the merger
consummated. As a result the UAW brass was forced to take a step back;
the contract was
permit strikes over discharges and onerous working conditions, but the
embrace of labor peace. Like his counterpart in the Steelworkers union,
David McDonald, Reuther toured the auto plants in the company of high
executives to signal the union’s determination to cooperate with the
introduction of new
with companies’ drive for higher productivity. Declaring that the key
to full employment
living standards was worker productivity, Reuther all but renounced the
union’s tradition of
shorter hours and for greater worker voices in setting production
In time, Reuther
changed his position on United States foreign policy, sharply
criticized Meany for his
it and went so far to take the UAW, temporarily, out of the AFL-CIO,
threatening to form
a new federation
with the Teamsters and other dissident unions. Towards the end of his
lifehe died in a
plane crash in
1970-- he reversed direction and opposed the Vietnam war. By the
time of his death the
AFL-CIO had long
abandoned its façade of non-partisanship and was not only
securely folded into the
as a junior partner, but, despite a rash of wildcat strikes against
speedup in the auto
particularly in Lordstown, and Norwood, Ohio, the UAW, no less than the
rest of Organized
ideologically committed to class collaboration.
exception of some industrial union participation in the Civil Rights
struggle in the South, even as
most of the
crafts retained their anti-black policies, the 1960s were marked by
Labor’s indifference, even
towards the new social movements that emerged during the decade. Some
Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), which joined with other women’s
fighting for the
equal rights amendment and for equal pay for equal pay at the
workplace. But the
demands of black
workers for union construction jobs and for apprenticeship
opportunities hit a brick
wall. The major
breakthrough of this period was the rise of public sector unions, most
of which were
blacks and Latinos. Unions like the State, County and Municipal
state employees associations that, at first were independent of the
AFL-CIO, seemed to
give the labor
movement new energy. Many were active in the struggle for women’s
anti-Vietnam war protest and conducted militant strikes at the public
legislatures to outlaw strikes by public employees. By the late 1980s,
represented a third of public employees and were setting their sights
on the health care field which
part of the non-profit private sector is heavily subsidized by
government and by
pre-paid health insurance.
The SEIU’s rise
from a medium sized union of janitors and doormen into the largest
union in the country
primarily, to its intervention into the public and health sectors.
While it never fails to remind the
fellow unionists that it has transformed itself by devoting a large
portion of its treasury to
growth owes as much to its former president John Sweeney and its
current chief Andy
business sense. SEIU has been built on some important campaigns,
poor, but its growth owes as much to mergers and acquisitions of
unions, affiliates of other national unions such as the huge
health and hospital local
1199, which some
would describe as raiding. Stern, James P. Hoffathe Teamsters
two leaders of
UNITE HERE, Bruce Raynor and John Wilhelm are not bereft of tactical
resources with which to conduct an aggressive organizing campaign. But
in most other
are in the old mold of top-down bureaucratic unionism.
decision to split from the AFL-CIO. No doubt each union consulted with
its executive board,
or exclusively of full-time paid officials of the union. But,
consistent with the
of organization in today’s unions the rank and file was not part of the
decision was arrived at. Some locals of all of the splitters did call
meetings to discuss the
leaders, however, acted unilaterally. In democratic organizations such
would surely be
preceded by a genuine debate among the members where the pros and cons
resolutions entertained from the locals and a public convention and/ or
a referendum held to
the pleasure of the rank and file is.
There are other
concerns that need to be raised with respect to the split. Stern has
made known his
desire to form a
new partnership with the corporate giants of the service sector. While
penchant to, in Hoffa’s words “throw money at the Democrats (the
AFL-CIO gave more than
$200 millions to
John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign), SEIU donated more than $65
million to the
there is not a whisper about what may be one of the most important
workers: in the
face of media complicity and indifference to the problems of working
people, to the
social crisis facing many of them, the Coalition that boycotted the
plans to start a national daily or weekly general circulation
newspaper, buy radio and
stations, conduct an otherwise intense campaign to get its message
across to the public.
the nature of the contemplated organizing campaign promises to remain
dominated by paid staff rather recruiting from the rank and file and
organizing from the
Labor Board-run elections or card checks rather than opening the door
to the revival of
the strike as a
main form of securing recognition, remaining oriented to getting
contracts rather than
workers whether there is a practical chance of a contract or not.
Needless to say, the new
understands that the Labor Relations Board has become an employer tool.
At best they have
proposed to seek
employer agreement to recognize unions that show they represent a
majority of their
card checks as a tactic presupposes much more union power than
currently exists. And
while the strike
weapon has become a museum piece because workers and their unions seem
to face the
employer’s wrath under various labor relations laws that give them few
breaks, we hear no
about how to open new avenues for worker voices.
Nor is there
special sensitivity to the obvious changes that have occurred in the
role of technology in the production, distribution and consumption of
goods and services.
There are some
who recognize the importance of the internet in mobilizing around
social and political
neither Sweeney nor Stern has spoken about its potential and certainly
have not taken the
articulate labor’s voice in cyberspace. These changes have altered the
nature of the labor
into existence millions of credentialed and technically trained workers
who, except in the
are largely outside of the unions. It is true that SEIU has paid some
attention to the
by physicians in hospitals and private practice, But like many of its
affiliates, it acquired
the network of
doctor’s locals which began as independents. It has not developed an
extend its purview in this field. As with the rest of organized labor,
the new coalition partners
are likely to
perpetuate the neglect of professional and technical workers that, with
the exception of the
Workers (Sweeney loyalists), has failed to come to terms with the 21st
intellectuals and activists have welcomed the new departure as an
opportunity. The best of
is that the historical evidence demonstrates that competition is good
for workers. The
rise of the
labor movement during the progressive era, the 1930s upsurge and the
explosion of public
in the 1960s were marked by intense competition within the labor
movement. But these
greatest periods of union growth. If two or more unions fight for
representation of a group of
non-union option is often marginalized. Some argue that even the
made secure by
article 20 of the AFL-CIO constitution which prohibits raiding, are
forced by competition
to up the ante,
to promise a more aggressive and militant brand of unionism. For it
that under the existing regime of no competition in organizing workers
get out from under an oppressive union administration. Rather than
promising more chaos,
coalition proposes more order. True discontented workers can decertify
the existing union, but
only in a
specified period after the expiration of the contract and then form an
But since the
Teamsters returned to the AFL-CIO fold in the post-James R. Hoffa era,
fallen on hard times. Some claim this is one key reason for falling
The question is
whether the splitters can muster the rhetoric and the style that
practices, until the 1970s, the Teamsters paraded an image of economic
power that was
its AFL-CIO competitors most of whom were making nice to the bosses.
because they offered a program of resistance. Are there any sections
of Organized Labor
remember how to talk the talk of class power when for decades, they
have assured workers
that they can
secure justice by peaceful means, that the old methods of baptism by
fire were outmoded
and the labor
movement had become “responsible”? Why should most workers trust union
who do not
inspire them with a spirit to fight the boss, who cannot prepare them
for the inevitable
offensive, who do not promise to recruit workers to a new social
movement that, at least,
American capitalism and its anti-labor laws and practices is the
problem? Stern and
high hopes, but in the end they mean no harm. They speak as if they are
ready to break
from the thrall
of electoral politics but, like Reuther a half century ago, are
prepared to sue for labor
peace. Is this
the stuff of a new crusade?
question underlying the split is what would constitute an effective
politics and strategy
adequate to stop
the rapid deterioration in workers’ living standards? What can arrest
the decline of real
proliferation of temporary and contingent work and the profound
regression in the already
of industrial and labor relations? That’s the first question. I want to
workers is only one and perhaps not the most important condition for
counter-offensive. The sufficient condition is the emergence of a Left
within the labor movement that
issues, that opens wide a discussion in both major sections of
Organized Labor. For this is
the first period
in recent history when there is no organized left to pose the
uncomfortable questions. But
this is also the
first time in decades when those questions are getting a hearing, even
if they are uttered
and fragmented ways.
Aronowitz teaches at the Graduate Center of CUNY. He is author, most
recently, of Just Around
the Corner: the
Paradox of the Jobless Recovery (Temple).
from Donna Kessleman :
5 September 2005
Hoping your summer was rich with research and also more
vacation-like sources of batterie recharge. In contrast, I thought this
info update on U.S. labor's long, hot summer might be of interest.
A selection of articles dealing with the AFL-CIO's 25th National
Convention, held in Chicago on July 25-28, 2005, can be found below
(and also attached in Word format). As you know a historical split
occurred when 5 national unions, making up the "Change-To-Win"
Coalition (CTW) and representing almost 40 % of the federation's
membership, decided to boycott the convention and the two biggest, the
SEIU and the Teamsters, officially announced on convention day their
decision to break. In a July 25 letter to AFL-CIO convention delegates
CTW cited the existence of "irreconcilable differences about how to
achieve" the albeit common goal of improving the lives of working
families and communities. Change-to-Win now plans a September 27th
Convention in Cincinnati to found a new labor federation.
The pieces here are by David Bacon, U.S. labor journalist; Jerry
Tucker, former UAW national executive board member, founder of the UAW
New Directions reform movement, currently retired and independent labor
organizer, present at the convention as labor journalist for Monthly
Review; Nancy Wohlforth, elected to the AFL-CIO national executive
council at the convention, national secretary-treasurer of the OPEIU,
co-convenor of the federation's Pride-At-Work constituency group,
co-convenor of U.S. Labor Against War (USLAW). I've also attached the
verbatim floor discussion of Resolution 53 on Iraq.
The pieces provide, I believe, insightful analyses of these singular
events as well as comprehensive information, including Jerry Tucker's
daily coverage from the Convention floor.
Having had the opportunity to attend, I'd just like to highlight some
key themes in my view, gathered from observations, discussions and
Fightback for Workers, their Rights and their Unions
While the division of the House of Labor was, as some uttered, the "800
pound guerilla in the room which no one wants to mention", and it
rarely was, fighting for working families and workers' rights remained
the conventionÂ’s main concern. Two broad strategic responses
aimed at turning the tides for labor: structural (including
Constitutional) reform to devote more resources and energies to
organizing - the quest for Wal-Mart has become the mantra - and
legislative reform. This means passing the Employee Free Choice Act
which would allow workers to organize through card checks, in lieu of
the counter-productive NLRB election certification process.
Passing this law was the common theme hammered out by all the
politicians intervening at the convention, no less than 10 Democrats
(et oui ! Senate minority leader Harry Reid, House minority leader
Nancy Pelosi, Ted Kennedy, a slew of Illinois Democrats: Senators
Richard Durbin and rising party star Barack Obama, a congressman, the
governor, the mayor of Chicago, ex. V.P. candidate George Edwards, Rev.
Jesse Jackson.. and 2 Republicans, Sen. Arlen Specter and rep. Peter
King. SpecterÂ’s co-sponsoring of the Employee Free Choice Act
with Ted Kennedy was symbolically poised as laborÂ’s new turn
towards moderate Republicans.
Aspiration for Labor Unity
The situation is, as you may imagine, quite complex, only time will
reveal the driving forces behind the split, whether it will ultimately
be a salutary retreat or only further labor's woes. In other words,
will the split help "shake up" labor from its lethargy, as some
delegates, notably from CTW have claimed, or will it prove an
unprincipled blow, coming at the worst possible time when labor finds
itself under fire from all sides, from corporate assault to a hostile
Administration, as many in the Sweeney majority unions contend. Despite
these differences, delegates from both camps generally felt they had
not received adequate explanations from their respective leaderships
or, most importantly, been properly consulted on these critical events,
and that the extreme outcome of a split might very well have been
One thing is sure: things risk getting worse before they get better, as
news of local union raiding, especially in the much coveted pubic
service sector, was already reaching the convention floor.
At the same time, I can attest to and would like to emphasize the
deep-seeded aspiration for labor unity, for unity in struggle, despite
any leadership meanderings, and this from unionists suddenly finding
themselves on opposite sides of the divide. One of the key stakes in
the coming period will be the functioning of the local structures that
regroup unions, the Central Labor Councils (CLC) in municipal and
regional areas and State Federations (see Bacon and Tucker). These
strategic centers are where unions join to work together, support each
other's struggles and organizing campaigns. While CTW initially
announced, in their July 25 letter to delegates, their unionsÂ’
continued participation in these area groupings as in the
federationÂ’s constituency groups, John Sweeney responded
Â– and quite understandably from his perspective Â– with a
strict application of the AFL-CIO Constitution, article III section 6,
recalling that no unions unaffiliated with the federation on a national
level can remain members of local councils and state federations.
Let’s take one concrete example. Current San Francisco hotel strikes
and picketing, organized by UNITE-HERE Local 2, a CTW union, are aimed
at bringing down this city's employers, who are the last holdouts of a
nation-wide campaign which has brought the major hotel chains into
date-coordinated contract bargaining. The entire SF labor movement has
actively built this fightback, and will certainly continue to do so,
for no differences between coalitions can be claimed here.
Activists in CLC's and State Federations at the convention were meeting
informally to discuss ways to continue working together (see
Wohlforth). By the way, there were many activists from the break-away
unions attending the convention, in their capacity as delegates from
CLCs and State Federations, and were just as enthusiastic as any when
calls for labor unity were hailed from the dais. So beyond the
individual remarks I gathered in my interviews, such are discernible
manifestations of the aspiration for labor unity mentioned above.
Convention’s Heart and Soul: Resolution 53 on Iraq
My next remark concerns the central role played at the Convention by
Resolution 53 on Iraq, which condemns the war and notably calls for
bringing the G.I.s home "rapidly". Such an anti-war statement is
unprecedented in AFL-CIO history. What's more, the fact the resolution
was brought to the floor at all was the result of internal campaigning
of delegates, notably supporters of the U.S. Labor Against War
Coalition (USLAW), made up of AFL-CIO unions and unionists. It was also
the fruit of compromise: the executive board’s original Resolution was
crafted around an appeal to bring the troops home "As soon as
possible"; but anti-war activists felt such a formulation would give
the Bush Administration the leeway to decide when "possible" would be,
quite possibly a long time down the road.
The national executive finally decided to put the resolution to a floor
vote while ultimately accepting - as a friendly amendment - the term
"rapidly", thus calling on the Bush Administration to "bring the troops
home rapidly". This change expressed the anti-war temperature in the
convention hall, already present in the numerous resolutions previously
submitted from CLCs and State Federations around the country and
national unions, many demanding an "immediate" withdrawal of troops.
Then there was Jesse Jackson who, in his guest appearance on the
convention floor, spoke forcefully for bringing the troops home. In
fact, Jackson got an immediate standing ovation the first time he
mentioned "Bring them home," which led him -- astute politician that he
is -- to repeat this demand rhythmically three times, "Bring them home!
Bring them home! Bring them home!" in front of the impassioned crowd.
I insist here because, in my opinion, the Iraq Resolution was actually
the convention's heart and soul. Amidst the ominous aura of skepticism
and uncertainly, as life-long devoted activists sought something to
latch onto, this unanimous and enthusiastic ovation rejoined American
labor with the deep-going roots of workers' internationalism. It
brought substance to a historic moment in search of its place in
> This is why I've attached the verbatim floor debate which led to
the subsequent vote, to give you a feel of this identifying moment, as
when one Local president from Pennsylvania rose to say:
> "And I must say to all the members of this labor movement that I'm
so proud. This is my proudest moment being a union member, because in
all the 49 years that I've been coming to these conventions, this is
the first time we've had the moral courage to stand up and say "Enough
The presence at the Convention of representatives of the entire Iraqi
labor movement was also significant of a kind of international
solidarity the AFL-CIO had not previously accustomed us to. During the
evening reception, the United Mine Workers president rose to ask an
Iraqi trade unionist what American labor could do to help their cause.
A representative from the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions of
Iraq answered that joining the protests in the streets for an end to
the U.S. occupation would be a good way. We will see if the federation
actually comes through with its promised support of the national
anti-war demonstration being prepared by the anti-war coalition for
September 24 in Washington, and also the reaction of Change-to-Win
unions, a number of whom are members of USLAW and have taken stands
against the war.
. A Context
The last point I wanted to quickly share with you, and which is less
emphasized in the articles below, is the larger framework in which this
is all taking place. I think it safe to say that the AFL-CIO's internal
troubles broke out into open crisis only after the Kerry defeat last
November. It's not sure that things would have gotten so far, so soon,
if the Democrats, so heavily subsidized by virtually all labor unions,
had made the day. Thus, labor's overall strategy in American politics
is not fundamentally contested by either of the competing factions - if
only to engage even more than before in two-party politics, like the
need to make Democrats more accountable and also to open up towards
moderate Republicans. Another key issue is that of labor-management
partnerships: SEIU president Andy Stern, key convenor of CTW, has
promoted them recently as a more "realistic" approach to global market
challenges. These issues are certain come more to the forefront.
Finally, the events take place at a time when labor is undergoing
restructurations and throes in all countries, just as at the
international level. It is difficult to fully dissociate tumultuous
events in the U.S. from the upcoming merger between the International
Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and the World Confederation
of Labor (WCL). We'll see how this all plays out in coming months.
From the floor of Chicago's Navy Pier Convention Hall, Donna Kesselman,
* * * * **********************************************************
> Whither Labor?
> Jerry Tucker Reports on the 2005 AFL-CIO Convention
> 6 August 2005
> by Jerry Tucker
> "A House Divided: For Better or Worse?"
> Note: this concluding report on the AFL-CIO Convention and events
surrounding it will be offered in two parts. First, a summary and
catch-up on certain events and impressions of the week in Chicago;
second, an attempt to sort out and analyze these events, what they
represent in a larger context, and what it all could mean to this
countryÂ¹s working class.
> One of the many reporters covering the AFL-CIOÂ¹s "50th
Anniversary Convention" commented on its conclusion: "well, it's ended
here, but it's just beginning out there!" He waved with his hand as if
fanning a far horizon. His point was clear: now the rupture in top
laborÂ¹s ranks precipitated by the breakaway of several
large unions at the start of the week was coursing its way to the union
base. Open fault lines would now appear in subordinate labor bodies in
states, cities, and towns all over the country.
> For most of the delegates from those widespread locations, already
on the front lines of the sustained attack by corporate capital and its
government accomplices, the week has raised more questions than it has
answered. Despite an attempt to conduct a "business-as-usual"
convention, the events of the week overall have clearly rattled the
Federation from top to bottom. Faced with the sudden loss of one-third
of its affiliate membership base, a severe dues income dip, and the
expected creation of a competing federation of the breakaway unions,
this probably looked like the week from hell to AFL-CIO President John
Sweeney and his remaining administration.
> Among the Convention's last morning's unfinished business was what
some had hoped would be a full debate on the controversial role of the
AFL-CIO American Center for International Solidarity (ACILS). Now
called the Solidarity Center for short, the ACILS has over the years
received significant monies from the U.S. GovernmentÂ¹s
National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The National Endowment for
Democracy is cited by critics for its "dubious history, having been
deployed frequently to promote U.S. government foreign policy
objectives, including assisting in overthrowing democratically elected
governments and interfering in the internal affairs of the labor
movements of other countries.Â² Such an unprecedented open
debate was not to be. In its place, by use of arbitrary Resolution
Process rules, was an administration-backed resolution which under
those rules represented the final and only resolution to be voted on
the matter of the AFL-CIO's Solidarity Center.
> The administration's resolution to protect and perpetuate its
Solidarity Center made no mention of the NED funding or any of the
alleged improper activities in other countries over the years. The
floor discussion on that resolution was a textbook in controlling
debate. In fact there was no debate. Each of the recognized speakers
worked from a carefully prepared script and played up such things as
the more recent role of the Solidarity Center in the dispersal of funds
to African labor contacts to fight the "devastating effects of
> One speaker, a high-ranking national union vice-president, even
reminisced enthusiastically about the AFL-CIO role in the conduct of
the "Cold War." It was a throw-back moment. The vote was taken on the
resolution without a speaker having been recognized to offer an
opposing view. One delegate who had supported a resolution which would
have banned the Solidarity Center from taking NED grants noted that "in
the wake of the millions being lost to the Federation's treasury by the
split, shutting off the State Department's funding spigot never had a
> In the brighter-moment category, withdrawn Executive Council
candidate Harry Kelber was given his negotiated opportunity to address
the Convention for a few minutes (he pushed the envelope on his
allotted time). Harry "thanked Brother Sweeney" and commented on the
fact that if he had run as announced, he would have had absolutely no
chance of winning and by negotiating for "these few minutes" felt "he
had made a good deal." He drew laughter and applause on that remark.
> Brother Kelber then gave the Convention something seldom heard the
entire week, pointed but constructive criticism. He noted that, in his
view, "the [rank and file] members don't have the slightest idea of
what you're doing." He went on to contend that the leadership lacked a
real "vision of a labor movement and a vision of society for our
children and grandchildren." He offered additional observations on the
lack of democracy in unions and the AFL-CIO at this time, and other
changes that he felt should be made. He ended by stating, "I am
committed to this labor movement!" He received a standing ovation. It
was a rare, almost poignant, moment in a week of sobering and ominous
events for the delegates.
Question: What's Going to Happen Back Home?
Throughout the week, leaders from the State Federations and
particularly leaders from the Central Labor Councils (CLCs) across the
country were holding ad hoc meetings and engaging in small-group
discussions about the anticipated problems the fracture in the labor
movement would produce. There was a clear sense of urgency and concern
among that broad group of delegates. It is this layer of the labor
movement, in cities and communities large and small, where the real
work of the labor movement, outside the individual workplaces, gets
> Typically, CLCs represent the second line of defense when workers
in a specific union are under attack in contract disputes, particularly
when strikes, lockouts, or extreme employer behavior raise the profile
of the struggle. They can, and the best of them do, represent the
solidarity face of all labor when workers in their area are under
attack. When they function as they should, they are the bridge between
community support for struggling workers and they play a central role
in building coalitions to fight against today's rising tide of federal
and state public policy takeaways concerning Medicaid protections and
others. The CLCs are a critical terminal in funding, and recruiting the
foot soldiers for, the "voter registration" drives and the
"get-out-the-vote" efforts in elections.
> The disaffiliation of major unions from the national AFL-CIO, and
the forming of a new federation (the Change-to-Win coalition plan) will
impact virtually every CLC and State Federation in the country. Where
the confrontation in Chicago left that situation, based on the stated
position of the feuding factions, is still unclear. The Change-to-Win
unions took the position that they would continue to affiliate and pay
dues to the state and local bodies. The AFL-CIO leadership has rejected
that option, declaring that exclusive Subordinate Body affiliation is
barred to non-national affiliates (even though that rule has been
unevenly enforced in the past).
> The delegates of a fractured national labor movement are now back
home where the split could have the most profound effect. The impact
may vary widely from place to place, depending on a number of factors,
starting with the relative amount of per capita dues (the amount paid
per member by CLC participating unions) that could be lost by a hard
rule that CTW unions can not participate in State or Local Councils.
> Already, I understand that some CLCs have voted to not allow
participation of, or accept dues from, CTW unions. Others are reputedly
planning to ignore national AFL-CIO directives and continue on as
before. Another option under discussion is the creation of "parallel
organizations" to carry out certain joint activities and provide mutual
fund pooling for specific projects or activities. Similarly, there are
in many communities auxiliary organizations like Jobs with Justice
coalitions (consisting of labor, community, religious activists and
organizations), and other labor supported formations that work on
specific issues and community concerns. These could grow in importance
if local labor organizations want to continue to project a united
> Today, unionists in communities everywhere are wrestling with
these questions. While these are unwelcome developments to most local
leaders, they could, of necessity, be forced to come up with a new
degree of resourcefulness and innovation. That possibility has started
a discussion among a growing network of progressive union activists who
are calling for a renewed outreach to rank-and-file members and local
union activists at the community level. Ideas, long forgotten, like
"working people's assemblies" and area shop steward councils and class
oriented labor/community education conferences are resurfacing.
> Fracture or no fracture, the relentless corporate offensive
against workers everywhere requires new strategies. The breakup of
monopoly unionism, even one precipitated by the barons of the
bureaucracy with similarly anemic agendas could force a sinking labor
movement to rediscover its greatest strength -- its membership and its
larger social constituency.
> Postscript: as we post, it is now known that the Change-to-Win
unions plan a September 27th founding Convention in Cincinnati for
their affiliates to formalize the new labor federation under that
banner. It may or may not be progress, but it continues to produce more
news coverage than labor has had in years.
> "This is another fine mess you've gotten us into!" -- Hardy to
Revitalization or Recidivism?
> Taking "the long view" in the immediate wake of a historical
period's potentially most dramatic events has its dangers. What has
happened inside the U.S. Labor Movement over the past fifteen or so
months, often described as a debate, was both overdue and curious.
Overdue, because leaders finally acknowledged the desperately deepening
crisis workers and labor unions in America are facing. Yet, what I and
a number of others have found so curious is how shallow, myopic, and
unplugged from todayÂ¹s worker reality the so-called debate
has remained to date. This has been a ping-pong match between guardians
of a failed legacy -- a faction fight to see who can best restore
business unionism and labor's junior partnership with capital.
> The debate has always been a top-deck affair. At no point did
rank-and-file workers and even secondary union leaders in state and
local bodies and local unions have a way to represent their points of
view, much less their dues dollars in the dispute. Throughout, it was
defined more by what was not included in the debate than the few
questions the leaders chose to wrangle over. The great contradiction --
what the leaders want and what the workers need. In the trenches, where
this debate means almost nothing, workers as a class are being
systematically and relentlessly exploited.
> Degradation of wages and working conditions, the continuous
shredding of the social safety net, the disproportionate weight of
taxes and prices of goods and services on the backs of workers,
globalization as a tool of oppression -- the list is extensive and
growing. American workers don't have to be told their quality of life
is spirally downward -- they know. What they don't know is what
happened to the mediating institutions that were supposed to launch a
counterattack in their behalf. As one of the primary institutions in
question, Big Labor's meetings in Chicago did not even come close to
answering that question.
> A number of Convention observers seemed to agree that the
essential unresolved differences between the feuding factions to be the
CTW coalition wanting to spend more money on organizing and the AFL
leadership wanting to keep more of a spending focus on politics. I
don't think it's that simple, but the absence of a comprehensive
analysis by either side helped feed that impression.
> In a recent interview in Truthout (noted in an earlier report),
Bill Fletcher, a former top Federation staffer, noted that "missing
from the debate [is] a thoughtful, rigorous analysis of the economic
and political conditions we're facing. . . ." He went on to suggest
that we need "radical solutions."
> I can't help but think that workers under the heel of job losses
through greed-driven corporate globalization strategies, those fired
for expressing support for unionization, retirees now facing the loss
of union-negotiated health insurance and possible pension destruction,
service workers perpetually forced to work below a living wage, workers
in the army of the unemployed, and millions of others in our
"dog-eat-dog economy" would agree with Brother Fletcher. If we need
solutions equal to the radical character of the attack we are under,
then, the current internal labor squabble is pointing us in the wrong
> On the question of the "analysis" raised by Fletcher, it is past
time for those who share his view and progressive backbenchers to raise
a collective voice of dissent and disapproval and to begin to produce
an alternative agenda. The renewal of a fighting, class-conscious labor
movement in America -- one that knows which side it is on, here and
around the globe -- is what the workers need and want. Educate the
base. Give secondary leaders in locals, unorganized workplaces, and
communities the tools and strategy-development skills and incentives
and build a new labor movement out of more than the "scattered deck
chairs" of the old!
> Meanwhile, back in the world of jousting union factions, the next
shoe to drop is likely to be the Change-to-Win Convention, scheduled in
Cincinnati, September 27th, to form an alternative national labor
federation. I guess we will all have to just stay tuned as the feud
continues. So far, it's the only game around.
The following texts are the day-by-day reports of events by Jerry
Tucker, who attended the Convention as Labor Reporter for the Monthly
24 July 2005,
> by Jerry Tucker
> * United Farm Workers (UFW) Join Change-to-Win Coalition*
> * Change-to-Win Unions to hold 3:00 pm press conference to
announce whether or not they will boycott the Convention (partisans on
both sides seem to think they will walk). Stay tuned.
> The AFL-CIO Convention:
> Will It Improve the Plight of AmericaÂ¹s Workers?
> Whether this week's AFL-CIO Conventioneers, celebrating the 50th
Anniversary of the merger of the American Federation of Labor (founded
in 1886) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (founded in
1935), could produce a united front to combat the long ignored
"one-sided class war being waged [relentlessly] on workers in this
country" was never really in question. They can't! Labor's leadership
is organized in a "circular firing squad."
> It's not in question whether this convention of the self-described
"House of Labor" will provide an unusual measure of drama, with major
players pushing competing proposals for the revitalization of our
beleaguered labor movement. That, in a surreal sense, is assured. Five
of the most influential and numerically potent affiliated unions, under
the banner of Change To Win Coalition (CTW), have issued a challenge to
the existing direction of the Federation and seem equally passionate
about replacing its top officers, particularly AFL-CIO President John
Sweeney. This conflict has been brewing for over a year. There have
been open skirmishes and rancorous internal debates. A threat by the
CTW unions to disaffiliate from the AFL-CIO is also in play. Some
observers have described the
July 24 2005,
> by Jerry Tucker
> Big Labor Split Now Seems Certain:
> Four of Six "Change-to-Win" Unions to Boycott AFL-CIO Convention
> In a meeting held late Sunday afternoon, the leaders and delegates
from the rival "Change-to-Win" (CTW) faction of the ALF-CIO announced
their intentions with regard to participation in the AFL-CIO
Convention, scheduled to convene tomorrow, Monday July 25 in Chicago.
> The presidents of all six CTW unions, SEIU, Unite-HERE, Teamsters,
UFCW, Laborers, and UFW participated in the announcement at a press
conference held in a separate hotel from the Convention hotel. Hundreds
of the delegates of those unions were also present at the announcement.
> There was loud applause when Anna Berger, SEIU Financial-Secty,
and CTW President made the announcement that SEIU, Unite-HERE, UFCW,
and the Teamsters would not participate in the Convention. The other
two unions indicated that they would participate but, like the four
other coalition members, they would not accept nomination or election
to Executive Council positions in the AFL-CIO.
> Questioned as to whether this decision would lead to full
disaffiliation from the labor federation, both SEIU and the Teamsters
PresidentÂ¹s Andy Stern and James Hoffa indicated that "they
would have a further announcement on that question tomorrow." The
others in the coalition left the question open, but they pledged they
were fully on board with moving forward with the Change-to-Win
Coalition. UFCW indicated they also already had the authority to pull
out, but did not indicate at what point they might do so.
> In answer to a direct question about the reasons for this action
and the specific differences they had with the AFL-CIO leadership, UFCW
President Joe Hansen responded that the issues were "fundamental and
principled." On being asked again to be more specific, he simply
repeated that "the differences were fundamental and principled."
Neither he nor any of the other presidents offered any further
elaboration. Cheering was frequent and everyone sounded upbeat at this
event. Stern closed the questioning by stating, in response to a
reporter asking about dividing the labor movement, "We are not trying
to divide the labor movement. We are trying to rebuild it." On that
note, the press conference ended to loud cheers and applause.
> The mood and tone of the CTW announcement meeting contrasted
significantly from that of a meeting/pep rally held by the unions
continuing to support the current AFL-CIO leadership earlier in the
day. There were cheers for officials as they were introduced and music
from a live band, but the mood was more subdued and, as the rally broke
up, the participants leaving conveyed a collectively dour look. The
band was trying to play "Solidarity Forever" as the delegates were
leaving, but even the band seemed to reflect the mood, as the music has
a slower, almost dirge-like sound to it.
> AFL-CIO President John Sweeney issued a statement following the
CTW unionsÂ¹ announcement in which he indicated that the
"four unions have decided that if they can't win, they won't show up
for the game."
> Comment | Trackback
25 July 2005
> by Jerry Tucker
> It's Official:
> SEIU and Teamsters Quit the AFL-CIO
> Today, at a little after nine o'clock a.m., the Fiftieth Year
Anniversary Convention of the AFL-CIO was gaveled to order. On its face
it resembled any number of conventions preceding it. The convention
hall at the end of the ChicagoÂ¹s Navy Pier was decorated
with artfully designed banners and draped screens with super-sized
images of workers with smiling, confident faces amid slogans and
messages of solidarity and inclusion, and forecasts of an even better
future. Visually, you had the sense that it was crowded, that the
planners carefully made arrangements to present the look of a just
slightly over-packed auditorium. The 30-yard-long front stage had
forty-some top officials from various member-unions, with a podium in
the center. There were two huge television monitors high above the
stage to present speakers and other participants on a grand scale to
the most distant seat in the hall.
> But every person of the several thousand in the auditorium knew
that this was the start of a much different Â³House of
LaborÂ² convention. Four of the Federation's biggest unions
weren't on the scene. The boycott that had been announced the day
before by Change-to-Win unions -- SEIU, Teamsters, UNITE-HERE, and the
United Food and Commercial Workers -- was in place. It was also known
to all assembled that by the end of the day two of those unions, SEIU
and the Teamsters, would no longer be affiliated with the AFL-CIO.
> At 1:00 pm, those two unions, with representatives from the other
two boycotting unions, formally announced their decisions to
disaffiliate at a press conference held in the offices of SEIU Local 1
-- a number of blocks from the Convention -- in downtown Chicago.
> In his speech to the Convention at the end of Navy Pier, AFL-CIO
President John Sweeney expressed anger at the unions not choosing to
attend the convention, describing it as "a grievous insult to all the
unions who helped us -- and to the unions in this hall who came here to
discuss and debate the difficult issues and make historic changes."
John Sweeney's speech can found at .
> In the small, tightly packed SEIU conference room, SEIU President
Andy Stern described his union and the Teamsters' decision to
disaffiliate quite differently, saying, "It represents, not an
accomplishment, but an enormous opportunity, and a recognition that we
are in the midst of the most rapid transformative moment in economic
history, and workers are suffering."
> Teamster President James P. Hoffa, in his remarks at the 1:00
press conference, maintained that the Change-to-Win unions intended to
continue to be "friends to all unions." He went on to explain that,
while not paying dues to the national AFL-CIO, the CTW unions would
continue to pay dues to State Federations and Central Labor Councils
(CLC) throughout the country, and that any union in a difficult strike
or struggle could depend on the full support of the Teamster union.
> Other questioners at the dissident faction's press conference
again (echo of the previous day) asked for elaboration on the specific
differences on issues between their group and the AFL-CIO leadership.
Once again, the principals were evasive, speaking in generalities about
how their group had Â³chosen a course and strength for the
American Labor Movement.Â² And how this was Â³the
beginning of a new era for AmericaÂ¹s workers.Â²
> As close to a specific illustration of differences as the press
questioners could get was offered by Andy Stern when he contrasted the
wordings of the Fed leadership's and CTW's resolutions on key points of
action: where the Fed leadership resolutions employed the word
"should," the CTWÂ¹s used the word "shall."
> The CTW spokespersons indicated that a founding convention to set
up the new "Federation" was in the works, and that the approximately
$10 million that each of their unions would save by not paying national
AFL-CIO dues, would be used for organizing, and that CTW "would hire
core staff" at some point.
> Meanwhile, back at the AFL-CIO convention, the day's agenda was
filled primarily with speakers from the Democratic Party like Senators
Dick Durbin, Harry Reid, Barack Obama, and Ted Kennedy, along with
House Leader Nancy Pelosi, and the NAACPÂ¹s Julian Bond. No
controversial resolutions like the pending resolution on the War in
Iraq, or a resolution that Federation severs its ties with the National
Endowment for Democracy (NED) were on todayÂ¹s agenda. Those
contentious issues will come up later in the week. We will discuss
those and other convention related activities in future posts.
> Comment | Trackback
26 July 2005
> by Jerry Tucker
Votes against Bush's War:
AFL-CIO Gets Down to Business
> On scale, todayÂ¹s activities at the AFL-CIO Convention
were almost routine and even a little dull. Dull that is compared to
the excitement of SundayÂ¹s pre-convention boycott
announcement by four big unions. And, compared to the even bigger news
yesterday, the convention's first day, of the official breakaway of two
of the nation's largest unions, SEIU and the Teamsters. This is a
convention where history is unfolding, and yet delegates are still
bound to wade through a series of resolutions and amendments in very
> In light of what already happened, news to report becomes a little
skimpy. There were more political speeches in the morning, including by
ChicagoÂ¹s Mayor Richard Daley and Illinois Governor Rod
Blagojevich. This is really routine fare until we come to the highlight
of the morning -- a speech to the convention by the Reverend Jesse
> As he is known to do, Jesse Jackson turned up the volume, brought
a new cadence to the almost somber air, and laid out a prescription for
rejuvenation. Citing many historic moments when power had to be seized
independently because it was not to be given, he exhorted the
convention to Â³get on the third rail where the juice
isÂ² and take on the many problems workers are confronted
with. In addition to other timely "directives," Brother Jackson
emphatically called on delegates to support an end to the unjust war in
Iraq -- now!
> The balance of the day was consumed with more resolutions, many
now taking on greater weight since Monday's announced split and the
anticipated loss of revenues and the impact on the functioning of many
subordinate bodies, like the State Federation and the local Central
Labor Councils. The thrust of much of what was approved sought to
recoup lost dues through affiliates who in the past would only
partially affiliate at those levels.
> Finally, near the end of the day, the resolution against the war
in Iraq was brought to the floor. Many anti-war delegates and USLAW (US
Labor Against the War) supporters had feared this proposed resolution
would be held back to the very last day and possibly even not voted on
at all. These fears were grounded in the FederationÂ¹s
history of blind support for the war in Viet Nam and an earlier
timidity to speak out on Iraq even as public support was evaporating
for the Bush AdministrationÂ¹s falsely justified invasion
and desperately failing occupation. The delegates had the answer. The
resolution was passed with only modest opposition.
> Tomorrow may be again a slow day with nuggets of real news hard to
find, but weÂ¹ll go hunting for them. One area of real
internal dispute clearly remains: the continued activities of the
AFL-CIO Solidarity CenterÂ¹s receipt of the State
Department-sponsored National Endowment for Democracy funds. Proponents
of ending this "unholy" alliance have been working hard to get a
resolution on the floor for a vote. It may come up on Wednesday.
> A quick note regarding democracy within the AFL-CIO: there are
rarely ever contested elections for Executive Council members. The
Federation merely puts out a slate equal to the number of seats to be
elected, and that's it. But this year Harry Kelber -- a long-time
critic (he's a very spry 91) of Federation policy and, as he sees it,
their lack of accountability -- is an announced candidate for a seat on
the Council. There seems to be some hanky-panky going on to keep Harry
from even being nominated by top officials. This is not a good image
for any so-called "democratic" organization to project, much less one
under the scrutiny of the media, given the big split of yesterday.
> I'm going to close now and find my way over to the Drake Hotel to
attend an "Elect Harry Kelber" rally. The young man who gave me a flyer
on the rally also told me that, as a special treat, Â³the
ashes of the great martyred IWW icon, Joe Hill, would be on
display.Â² That's an old ploy and fits the legend of Joe
Hill who exhorted "workers not to mourn, but to organize," but the
invocation of the spirit of Joe is a fitting one in this case (Joe was
shot by firing squad in the 1920s, and Harry Kelber would have been
alive at the time). Well, as to the ashes -- who knows?
> Comment | Trackback
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
27 July 2005
> by Jerry Tucker
> AFL-CIO Convention Spends Day in Horse Latitudes
> Seamen of old in sailing ships used to dread the days when their
voyage took them into the oceanic "horse latitudes," with scant wind,
if any, to fill the sails. That's a little overdrawn, but the
Federation's Wednesday deliberations were slow and wholly uneventful
compared to the drama and tension provoked earlier in the week with the
> No new shoe dropped -- neither of the other two boycotting unions,
UFCW and UNITE-HERE, made an official declaration of disaffiliation.
And, the CTW folks did not otherwise create any more news.
> So it was business as usual at the end of fabled Navy Pier in
Chicago and there was almost a sense of relief among the delegates that
at least some part of the Federation's past practice had resurfaced. A
number of resolutions were passed in relatively short order. Only a
couple provoked more then token comments and/or debate.
> There was a presentation by two young students, one from the
United States Student Association and the other from United Students
Against Sweatshops. They described highlights and victories from the
previous year's wave of student activism on college campuses in behalf
of workers, both those who worked for low wages on the campuses, and
those being exploited by global corporations in other countries. It was
exciting, and it is a trend labor and progressives should encourage and
> One aspect of today's business that I found interesting was the
passage of several resolutions that had originally been part of the now
departed, challenging unions' package of demands. These were
resolutions that Fed administration leaders had agreed to support in an
effort to appease the CTW unions. They included the concept of creating
Industry Coordinating Committees to oversee organizing targeting and
set contract standards among the unions in each particular industry
> A resolution was passed to reduce the number of seats on the
Executive Council -- an obvious response to the unions who take took
their leave. And then the delegates were asked to approve a resolution
that created an Executive Committee, something CTW folks had demanded,
made up of the AFL-CIO Vice-Presidents representing the 10 largest
unions in the Federation. That's clearly another layer of bureaucracy
and reduces further the impact of the smaller unions and the
Vice-Presidents on the larger Executive Council who represent the
diversity components within labor who have fought so hard to be
> One piece of business not completed was a hastily crafted
resolution designed to give the Executive Council and General Board
"extraordinary circumstances" power to "suspend provisions of the
Constitution" in the wake of the current and pending disaffiliations.
Sounds a little scary (thinking of the Patriot Act here). The matter is
to be brought back up on Thursday with some modifications.
> The day's session wound to an end with the nomination of the
Executive Council. The only question that had been open on the rubber
stamping election process was the stated intention of Harry Kelber
(which I mentioned yesterday) to run for a VP seat, therefore throwing
the whole process into an election (lengthy and never favored by the
administration). It seems that negotiations occurred overnight ,and
Brother Kelber (remember, a spry 91) agreed not to be nominated if he
could be allotted some minutes on Thursday morning in the Convention's
closing session to address the assembly. That was agreed and the usual
speedy and suspense-less elections were completed.
> Comment (1) | Trackback
> **** * * * * * * * * *
> By David Bacon
> San Francisco Bay Guardian, 8/10/05
> SAN FRANCISCO, CA - In Chicago's cavernous Navy Yard convention
> center, delegates were lined up at the four microphones scattered
> across the floor. San Francisco's Nancy Wohlforth stood at mic
> number 2. She'd been waiting for this moment for two years.
> The mic went live, and she stepped forward. Wohlforth is a slight
> woman, but her voice cut through the hubbub of the little
> conversations across the floor, stopping them dead. With the
> intensity and anger of a twenty-first century Mother Jones, she
> to give her fellow delegates a dose of straight, unvarnished truth.
> "All we hear are the lies and deceit of the Bush administration,"
> called out, "that put us in Iraq on a false pretext, and keep us
> Iraq for absolutely no good reason except to enrich his cronies in
> Halliburton," Her voice rising, she pointed to a group of Iraqi
> workers who'd braved the long, dangerous road from Baghdad to get
> the AFL-CIO convention.
> "I'll tell you what they want," she thundered. "They want an end
> the U.S. occupation." Applause broke into her speech. "They want
> now, and not yesterday." The applause got stronger. "Because as
> as we are there, they can never really achieve self-determination
> build a truly democratic state."
> She brought the house down.
> Wohlforth, whose face breaks into sharp angles around flashing
> is a piece of San Francisco in Washington, DC. As
> secretary-treasurer of the Office and Professional Employees
> she's now one of the highest-ranking labor leaders in the country.
> She heads Pride at Work, the national organization of gay and
> union members. For two years, she and her anti-war cohorts in US
> Labor Against the War fought the long battle that finally put the
> Iraq war on center stage at the AFL-CIO's Chicago gathering.
> But just as the labor movement was taking this historic step in
> opposing the war, it was also sacrificing its own unity in an orgy
> internal strife. The day before Wohlforth's speech, three unions
> left the federation, not over international politics, but over
> disagreements on how to respond to the decline in labor's
> and economic power. The war may seem far away from these more
> concrete concerns, but many labor activists, looking at the blood
> the floor after the convention ended, connected the dots. What
> needs, they concluded, is less internal division, and more courage
> and political vision.
> In an interview after the convention with activist Alan Benjamin,
> Wohlforth called it "a very bad day for the labor movement." From
> her observations, most union members don't understand why it had
> happen. "Even I am having a hard time understanding what it's all
> about," she said, "and I've been in the labor movement for a very
> long time."
> For labor activist Bill Fletcher, while the debate caused profound
> rifts, it never came to grips with labor's basic problem: "We have
> be prepared to talk about something we've been afraid to say out
> - that capitalism is harmful to the health of workers," he said in
> interview. "Something is fundamentally wrong with the priorities
> this society, and we have to be courageous enough to say so."
> At the debate's end, the AFL-CIO passed a resolution, calling for
> "rapid withdrawal" of US troops from Iraq. For progressive trade
> unionists, it was a bright moment, but one that came in dark
> San Francisco's Tim Paulson connected the dots for his fellow
> delegates between the war and the problems facing workers closer
> home. According to the city's central labor council secretary,
> this money that is being spent on bombs and occupation could have
> been used for health care, jobs, and infrastructure. It could have
> been used for the things that working men and women value. That's
> what we believe in."
> Nationally, unions face a serious crisis of declining numbers.
> after World War 2, unions represented 35% of US workers. By 1975,
> after the Vietnam War, it had dropped to 26%. Today only 12% of
> workers, and 8% in the private sector, are union members. They're
> mostly concentrated in the urban areas on each coast, and the
> industrial belt of the Midwest, leaving workers in large parts of
> country on their own in dealing with their employers.
> Declining numbers translate into a decline in political power and
> economic leverage. California (with one-sixth of the AFL-CIO's
> members) and New York have higher union density than any others.
> even here, labor is facing an all-out war with Governor Arnold
> Schwarzenegger. Measures on the governor's special election ballot
> threaten to cut to shreds the ability of California's powerful
> worker unions to engage in any meaningful political action.
> So this might not be such a good time for labor to split ranks,
> that's just what has happened. On the first day of the AFL-CIO
> convention, two unions quit the labor federation - its largest
> the Service Employees International Union, with 1.8 million
> and the 1.1 million-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
> Following the convention's end, one more union pulled out - the
> United Food and Commercial Workers.
> All three are large and important unions in northern California.
> SEIU locals include 790, which represents public workers from San
> Francisco to Stockton, 535, a statewide union for social service
> workers, and United Healthcare Workers, one of the largest union
> locals in the country. Teamster locals throughout the Bay Area
> represent workers in trucking and transportation, warehouses, food
> processing plants, and numerous other private companies. The
> Food and Commercial Workers is the union in grocery stores and
> meatpacking companies.
> The three unions that withdrew from the AFL-CIO have organized a
> labor coalition, called Change to Win, which also includes other
> unions which have notpulled out, at least not yet,. UNITE HERE is
> one. The union's Local 2 has been involved in an epic struggle
> 14 of San Francisco's largest, most luxurious hotels. Other UNITE
> HERE locals represent workers in the garment and laundry industry.
> Change to Win also includes the United Farm Workers, the Laborers
> International Union, and the Carpenters (who pulled out of the
> AFL-CIO several years ago.)
> This is a very contradictory moment in the life of US unions.
> attention has focused largely on this split among unions, yet the
> impact of the debate on the war will reverberate for years. The
> generation of anti-war, solidarity activists who were young
> during Vietnam, and rank-and-file militants during the Central
> American interventions, today are leading unions. Some of them may
> have forgotten, or chosen to forget, those roots. But many have
> Like Wohlforth, they're tired of seeing their movement remain
> when the US military is used to prop up an economic system they're
> fighting at home. The labor movement may be awash in internal
> dissention over its structure, but it is growing surprisingly
> single-minded over the Iraq war.
> Brooks Sunkett, vice-president of the Communications Workers of
> America (CWA), gave one in a train of passionate speeches on the
> convention floor, saying that the government had lied to him when
> sent him to war in Vietnam three decades ago. "This war seems very
> similar to that war," he declared. "Lies were told to me then, and
> lies are being told to me now." Henry Nicholas, a hospital union
> leader in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal
> Employees, told delegates that his son, who has served four tours
> duty in Iraq, is now threatened with yet another.
> With no one voicing dissent, speaker after speaker rose to condemn
> the war and occupation, and to demand the return of the troops.
> debate was the high water mark in an upsurge that began sweeping
> through US unions before the war started two years ago. From the
> point when it became clear that the Bush administration intended
> invade Iraq, union activists began organizing a national network
> oppose it, US Labor Against the War. What started as a collection
> small groups, in a handful of unions, has today to become a
> of unions representing over a million members.
> Watching from the visitors' gallery were the Iraqi union leaders
> whom Wohlforth had pointed. One of them had traveled to the US two
> months ago, with five other union activists, to plead the case of
> Iraqi workers. For 16 days they traveled to more than 50 cities,
> urging their US union counterparts to take action to end the
> In May two of the Iraqis, Hassan Juma'a and Faleh Abood, leaders
> the General Union of Oil Employees, arrived in the Bay Area. They
> won standing ovations at San Francisco longhore union halls, from
> SEIU's big public worker local in San Jose, from refinery workers
> Martinez, and from almost every Bay Area labor council. These
> experiences were repeated from Los Angeles to Seattle.
> The USLAW network organized the tour of the Iraqi unionists, to
> provide them a chance to speak directly to US workers. "We
> strongly that if unions in our country could hear their Iraqi
> brothers and sisters asking for the withdrawal of US troops, they
> would respond in a spirit of solidarity and human sympathy," said
> Gene Bruskin, one of USLAW's national coordinators. "We were
> The debate at the convention was the answer to the call. Starting
> San Francisco, 18 resolutions calling for troop withdrawal poured
> into the AFL-CIO from unions, labor councils, and state labor
> federations across the country. As the convention began, however,
> AFL-CIO national staff tried to substitute another resolution that
> called for ending the occupation "as soon as possible." This was
> language used by the Bush administration.
> Delegates at the convention in the USLAW network then called for
> substituting the phrase "rapid withdrawal" of the troops. Knowing
> fight was in store, and suddenly unsure of their ability to win
> AFL-CIO staff agreed. When the proposal for rapid withdrawal was
> on the floor, Paulson made clear that "when you say 'rapidly,'
> would be the same as 'immediately' -- and that is why we are going
> support this resolution." The new language was adopted with the
> of an overwhelming majority.
> The resolution marks a watershed moment in modern US labor
> It is the product of grassroots action at the bottom of the US
> movement, not a directive from top leaders. The call for bringing
> the troops home echoes the sentiments of thousands of ordinary
> workers and union members, whose children and family have been
> on to fight the war. A growing number, now a majority in US
> believe the best way to protect them is to bring them home.
> The war in Iraq never had much credibility as an effort to find
> weapons of mass destruction, since none were ever found. The
> administration's claim that it is fighting to bring democracy to
> Iraqi people inspires a similar disbelief. After five years of
> administration attacks, none but the most diehard of Bush's
> supporters have much faith left in his pro-democracy
> Over the last year, however, the Iraqis themselves have provided a
> new way of looking at the occupation's anti-democratic impact.
> American military authorities, they told US union members, have
> banned labor organization in oil fields, factories and other Iraqi
> public enterprises. Meanwhile, Bush political operatives have
> to engineer the sell off of those enterprises to foreign
> corporations, with a potential loss of thousands of jobs - and the
> income needed to rebuild the country.
> "This is not liberation. It is occupation," said Ghasib Hassan, a
> leader of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, one of the unions
> that sent its members to speak in the US. "At the beginning of the
> 21st century, we thought we'd seen the end of colonies, but now
> entering a new era of colonization."
> Rapid withdrawal means more than just bringing US soldiers home.
> Calling for it puts American workers on the side of Iraqis, as
> resist the transformation of their country for the benefit of a
> wealthy global elite.
> The debate over Iraq highlights an important problem, however.
> members are becoming more sophisticated, and better at
> the way global issues, from war to trade, affect the lives of
> in the streets of US cities. But the percentage of union members
> declining, and the organization they need to put that
> into practice is getting smaller. Deeper political awareness alone
> will not change the world.
> In the months leading to the convention, therefore, Iraq was not
> main subject of debate in unions. In fact, it was often submerged
> a much different discussion, where participants mostly talked
> crisis of survival. The proposals for changing the direction of US
> unions, which finally culminated in the split, had very little to
> with foreign policy, and much more with the structural problems
> keep unions from acting effectively.
> The best local example of the issues at stake is the yearlong saga
> San Francisco's hotel workers. Inspired by the idea of unions in
> cities around the country sitting down at the same time with giant
> hotel operators, hotel workers nationally are demanding a common
> expiration date for all their labor agreements - in 2006. Most
> won it - San Francisco is the main holdout.
> The city's Multi Employer Group refuses to agree. They represent
> hotel operators, including multibillion-dollar corporations like
> Hilton, Intercontinental, Starwood and Hyatt, who manage hotel
> properties around the country and the world. They understand that
> the union orms a common front of workers in city after city,
> be able to win a new standard of living that individual local
> can't achieve on their own.
> Hotel workers are also trying to avoid the bitter experience of
> grocery workers in Los Angeles two years go. There 40,000 workers
> struck the grocery chains of Safeway, Albertsons and Ralph's
> throughout southern California for five months. In the end,
> they were forced to accept substantially lower wages and
> because the chains kept stores open, making profits, in the rest
> the country. The lesson for unions here was that regional
> with huge multinational companies no longer works. What was
> was solidarity - the ability to act together.
> United Airlines taught unions a similar lesson. The carrier dumped
> its pension plan on the Federal government earlier this year, and
> retirees saw their benefits slashed. The airline industry is
> up among eleven different unions (four at United alone). With such
> division, it's hard for workers to win. If they all belonged to a
> single union, and almost all airline employees were organized, it
> would be much easier. Workers could refuse to accept the
> of the retirement system they spent decades building. If one
> went bankrupt (as United threatened to do), its workers could
> be absorbed by other airlines - if there was only one union and
> In wages, benefit cuts, and lost pensions, California workers have
> paid a high price for sticking with an outmoded way of organizing
> themselves. On the other hand, the San Francisco's dockworkers'
> union, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, beat a
> lockout of its members three years ago. They won because in the
> 1930s and 40s, the union was very smart about the same issues.
> Longshore workers used to be considered bums and derelicts. After
> the San Francisco General Strike of 1934, they won the ability to
> negotiate a single contract with all the shipping companies on the
> west coast, covering all the ports. As a result, longshore wages
> now among the highest of US industrial workers. Solidarity worked.
> Last year, therefore, many unions began making proposals for
> the way they operate. The discussion started in San Francisco, at
> SEIU's August convention, when President Andy Stern called for
> structural change. Then, after labor lost the 2004 presidential
> election, the union issued a 10-point proposal called Unite To
> It immediately stirred intense controversy, and other unions
> The most controversial item of the 10 points would give the
> the authority to require small unions to merge into ones large
> to have strength to bargain and organize. The federation would
> make sure that workers in the same industry would no longer be
> among many unions. "Take the airline industry," said Stern in an
> interveiw, "where unions are divided by craft, by companies, by
> and non-union. We have to look in the mirror and be honest. When
> divide the strength of workers, and we don't have a united
> workers pay the price."
> Many unions disagreed violently that they should be forced to
> Eventually, however, the debate collapsed into an argument over
> money. Unions who formed the Change to Win Coalition want the
> AFL-CIO to rebate half of the money they contribute in dues, to
> strategic campaigns to organize new members. AFL-CIO President
> Sweeney (himself a former president of SEIU, and Stern's mentor)
> the federation should increase spending on organizing, but put
> more into election campaigns. In reality, both sides advocated
> increasing the resources for both organizing and political action
> the difference was over the proportion going to each.
> Was the issue worth splitting the labor federation?
> Eliseo Medina, vice-president of SEIU for the union's western
> says yes. "No one is going to save us," he said in an interview,
> politician or public official, no matter how well-intentioned. We
> can only save ourselves. To do that, we need to reach out and
> a lot more people into our movement. Politics is part of the
> solution, but we must also mobilize the millions of workers who
> join a union if given the opportunity.
> "We felt we need to rebate 50% of per capita back to unions
> to organize in those core industries, or about $50 million. The
> AFL-CIO was only willing to go as high as $15 million, with the
> of the resources allocated to politics. That was a clear-cut
> difference - what they proposed was just not sufficient to do the
> Others were not so sure. Some simply opposed dividing labor's
> strength while it is under attack. But others felt the debate
> gone far enough. Bill Fletcher is one of the latter. After the
> reform administration of John Sweeney was elected in 1995, he
> the labor federation's director of education, and later Sweeney's
> assistant. Forced out over his radical politics, he's become an
> outspoken critic of the slow pace of change in US unions. "Our
> suffer from a profound conservatism, a failure to recognize the
> of changes that are going on, and therefore our need for a very
> visionary movement," he said in an interview. "Most of the present
> leaders really should retire. They've made certain wrong
> about the politics and economics of this country. Unions are not
> accepted by the governing elite. They're not accepted by capital."
> Fletcher and others argue that while fighting at high volume about
> the money that should go to hiring organizers or running election
> campaigns, there's too little debate over direction - where labor
> headed. The debate over Iraq at the AFL-CIO convention adds
> substance and politics to a discussion dominated by dollars and
> Labor needs that deeper discussion desperately. Lost, for
> have been the high ideals of organizing and defending immigrant
> workers, which gave hope to millions of the undocumented after the
> AFL-CIO's convention in Los Angeles in 1999. There a similar
> from labor's base forced another change in basic policy onto the
> convention's floor. Unions rejected their former position of
> for employer sanctions, the provision of the 1986 Immigration
> and Control Act that makes it a federal crime for an undocumented
> immigrant to hold a job.
> John Wilhelm, now UNITE HERE copresident, declared that supporting
> sanctions had been a big mistake. Others agreed. Yet today two
> bills are moving through Congress that would actually strengthen
> employer sanctions. Both would establish huge new guest worker
> programs, like the bracero program of the 1940s and 50s, bringing
> immigrants to the US under temporary visas to supply the labor
> of big corporations. Immigrant rights advocates have traditionally
> opposed these programs as exploitative - virtual involuntary
> One of those bills, the Kennedy/McCain Bill, is being supported by
> some of labor's national political operatives, with no discussion
> union locals and among rank-and-file members, over its impact on
> labor and immigrants. Meanwhile, the most progressive immigration
> bill in Congress has no guest worker and beefed-up enforcement
> provisions. Although it's supported by the Congressional Black
> Caucus, it has received almost no attention from unions.
> Two years ago, UNITE HERE initiated the Immigrant Workers Freedom
> Ride. In contract negotiations, Local 2 has defended immigrant
> while demanding that hotels taking down the defacto color line
> against African American workers. This is the kind of change in
> unions many members would like to see - a real agenda based on
> principles, an honest attempt to put them into practice, and
> heat to change the terms of a poisonous political environment in
> Instead, even in progressive unions, what you get is Washington
> beltway deal making. As Fletcher says, debate has to get much
> And in the meantime, unions in San Francisco, and its labor
> have to survive. No one knows quite what to expect, as labor gets
> ready for a new season of political and economic strife. San
> Francisco has a more difficult problem than most - Josie Mooney,
> executive director of the city's big public workers union, SEIU
> 790, is the council's president. So far, Mooney hasn't tendered a
> letter of resignation, and according to Medina, "we need to
> working together at the local and state level, and hope the
> takes the same position." he says.
> Around the country, unions have close relationships they hardly
> to cast aside. Further, most councils are very dependent on the
> income from unions who now belong to CTW. If they are forced to
> function without it, they'll have to lay off staff and cut back on
> Councils do most of the heavy lifting during elections, like the
> coming in California in November. Union members troop down to
> council phone banks, walk precincts at night or on weekends in
> mobilizations organized by councils, and even decide who are
> labor-friendly candidates in council meetings. In the building
> trades, the project labor agreements that cover giant construction
> projects like airports, schools and bridges are commonly signed
> a council, and require participating unions to belong.
> If this structure blows apart, unions have a lot to lose. As many
> see it, in a fight between elephants the ordinary people who do
> labor's work have to avoid getting squashed. Sweeney has already
> issued one statement, however, which some AFL-CIO staff scornfully
> call "the company line." It says unions that withdraw from the
> federation can't continue to participate in local councils as
> dues-paying delegates with a vote.
> Tim Paulson is waiting for the dust to settle. "I really see what
> will happen next as an extension of the debate we've had so far,"
> said hopefully in a recent interview. "Our SEIU, Teamsters and
> locals were part of the labor movement before the convention, and
> they're still our brothers and sisters now. I think we ought to
> offer our national leaders an anger management program."
> Working together with unions that have left the federation is not
> unprecedented. It happened when the Teamsters and United Auto
> Workers withdrew in the 1960s. The Carpenters Union, the largest
> union in construction, left a few years ago, and still
> in most Bay Area labor councils. The AFL-CIO-affiliated American
> Federation of Teachers cooperates with the independent National
> Education Association - in San Francisco, their two affiliates
> several years ago to form the United Educators of San Francisco.
> "I think we're just going to go on doing what we've always done,"
> Paulson predicts. "We have too much at stake in increasing
> solidarity among workers to throw it all on the scrapheap now."
> Unions have a good reason to keep it together. Arnie's watching in
* * * * * * * * * * **********************************************
of Nancy Wohlforth "
Following is an interview with Nancy Wohlforth, International Secretary
Treasurer of the Office and Professional Employees Union (OPEIU) and
National Co-Chair of Pride at Work. The interview was conducted by Alan
Benjamin, co-coordinator of the Open World Conference Continuations
Committee and U.S. convenor of the ILC, on July 31, three days after
the conclusion of the national AFL-CIO convention in Chicago.
This interview will appear in ILC International Newsletter, which is
published every week in numerous languages by the International Liaison
Committee of Workers & Peoples (ILC), firstname.lastname@example.org.
> Question: What is your assessment of the recent split in the
AFL-CIO? Was it justified? Do the ranks understand what it is all about?
> Nancy Wohlforth: No, the split in the federation was not
justified. It was a very bad day for the labor movement to have this
split. The overwhelming majority of union members don't understand what
this split is over. Even I am having a hard time understanding what
it's all about, and I've been in the labor movement for a very long
> I strongly believe that the AFL-CIO leadership under John Sweeney
went out of its way to accommodate the unions that formed the Change to
Win Coalition (CTW) -- namely, SEIU, Teamsters, HERE/UNITE, UFCW,
Laborers, Carpenters and, more recently, the United Farm Workers. The
AFL-CIO has made -- and will continue to make -- many of the
far-reaching structural reforms proposed by the CTW. But apparently
that was not good enough. In the end, I'm afraid to say, most people
view this as a split over personalities.
> Question: I have heard it said by unionists on both sides of the
divide that many of the changes needed to revitalize the trade union
movement were not taken up in this debate. Do you share this view, and
if so, what issues were not addressed that should have been addressed?
> Nancy Wohlforth: For me, there are three central issues that need
to be tackled head on by the trade union movement. The first is the
need for labor to have its political independence. In Europe, the trade
unions have their own political parties and their own independent
traditions. They don't vote -- as we do in this country -- for two
parties of the corporations. But here all our energy is placed in the
two parties of the corporations. And once they are elected, most of
those who claim to be our "friends" forget that we got them elected.
> We must begin to run our own independent labor candidates at the
local and state level. We must begin to create our own independent
political voice for labor. But this discussion was not brought up by
either wing of this debate.
> Let's not forget that Clinton gave us NAFTA and the Defense of
Marriage Act on a federal level. This Act takes away the rights of gay
people to have protection, benefits and other such provisions.
> Second, we need to educate the trade union movement about the true
character of this globalized economy -- about why our corporations are
destroying decent-paying jobs in this country to over-exploit workers
in Central America or China. There could have -- and should have --
been a mass movement in the streets to stop CAFTA. This issue is not
just the property of the union leadership and a committed wing of
> Third, we need to make it possible for the rank and file to
control their union locals, their district councils, their state
federations, and their international unions. The workers need to take
ownership of their unions -- so that they feel they are the union. This
is what spurred the mass organizing drives and mobilizations of the
> Question: A large number of trade unionists on both sides of the
divide have insisted on the need to maintain unity in action and
genuine solidarity among unions following this split. Will it be
possible to maintain such forms of unity at the level of the State
federations and Central Labor Councils? How could this be achieved?
> Nancy Wohlforth: What you saw at the Chicago convention from the
leadership -- but also from a large number of delegates -- was a very
emotional response by people who felt very hurt. No one there felt the
differences warranted a split. I think that as the dust settles and
some time passes, there will be many ideas put forward on how best to
help State federations and Central Labor Council mobilize all union --
and non-union -- members to fight back in unity.
> In OPEIU, we discussed the proposals put forward both by the
AFL-CIO leadership and the Change to Win folks. We took this discussion
to our membership. Our Executive Board concluded that we need a united
labor movement so that the many of the progressive ideas that were
expressed in Change to Win can continue to be fought for in AFL-CIO.
This remains our view.
> The rules in our AFL-CIO Constitution forbid non-AFL-CIO unions
from being part of the State federations and Central Labor Councils.
But this doesn't mean, at least not in my mind, that we cannot build
coalitions with non-AFL-CIO unions to promote joint organizing
campaigns, joint campaigns against the war, joint campaigns against the
"free trade" agenda, or joint political campaigns in support of local
and state ballot issues.
> This also highlights the need to have an independent constituency
group like Pride at Work (PAW). We were built from the grassroots up.
We wrote our PAW Constitution explicitly to permit us to involve
unionists inside and outside the AFL-CIO. This will enable us to be a
bridge between all unions in the coming period.
> Question: There is also a growing concern within broad sectors of
the labor movement about the need to affirm the independence of the
trade unions in relation to "partnerships" with management and the
international institutions of finance capital. Over the years, we in
the International Liaison Committee have highlighted the dangers to the
international trade union movement posed by all the attempts to co-opt
the unions into what is now called a "New World Governance."
> How should the labor movement respond to this challenge?
> Nancy Wohlforth: Unfortunately, this issue is not understood by
the U.S. trade union movement at any level. There is no real discussion
about the problems with including labor rights in the core "free trade"
pacts or having a seat at the table of the architects of globalization.
There is no real discussion about the ongoing "reform" of the
International Labor Organization (ILO) or about problems posed by the
merger between the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and
the World Confederation of Labor.
> Frankly, the issue of having labor included as a "partner" at the
table with multinationals sounds good. "At least we'll be heard," many
> I personally was appalled by the comment by [SEIU President] Andy
Stern on the Lou Dobbs show that we cannot fight the outsourcing of our
jobs in this new globalized economy, and that we have to work closely
with corporations to have a better form of offshoring. It's absurd to
think we can politely convince the multinationals to have a more
> What does it mean to call ourselves a trade union? Our role is --
and must remain -- to help build trade unions in other countries, to
fight the bosses. You cannot improve globalization, you have to fight
> In our own union, our strategy has been to fight the privatization
of BC Hydro in Canada. We cannot work with Accentur, the company that
seeks to privatize BC Hydro. Our allies are working people in those
countries. You must work with them and help them form strong unions --
against the multinational corporations and their privatization drive.
> What does it mean to have a seat at the table? It sounds to me
like the famous Employee Stock Option Programs (ESOPs) that were sold
by management at United Airlines to the Machinists union to stop the
workers from demanding wage increases. But this joint ownership pension
plan was a total failure. The unions had only a token voice on the
United Airlines Board. For the membersip it was a disaster -- and I
think this was the conclusion drawn by the leaders of the Machinists'
union, as well.
> We need to open a discussion on this burning question and look at
all the concrete lessons of our own "labor-management" partnership
schemes in the United States. This will help us understand the imminent
dangers of co-optation on the international level.
> Question: Supporters of the International Liaison Committee (ILC)
and Open World Conference (OWC) in the United States have raised the
need to produce a regular newsletter to provide a Forum for discussion
on the need for Trade Union Unity and Independence in the aftermath of
this split. This newsletter could bring together union activists and
leaders on both sides of the divide to address these burning questions.
Do you think this would be a good idea?
> Nancy Wohlforth: A newsletter could be good. The more voices are
heard on these issues the better. The one encouraging thing in this
recent period has been the growing discussion among union leaders and
activists on the need to revitalize the trade union movement. The New
Unity Partnership, predecessor of the Change to Win coalition, opened a
website and dialogue that provided a forum for people to read and write
down their ideas. This compelled the AFL-CIO to open its own website.
This shows a deep thirst by the rank and file to ask questions and draw
their own conclusions.
> It is important that this debate not be closed with the split.
There is more need than ever to maintain the struggle for trade union
unity and independence. Even it were only done on a small scale, the
ILC and OWC would play a very useful role by publishing such a
> Question: What is your assessment of the resolution against the
war in Iraq that was passed at the Chicago convention, and what is the
next task of the U.S. labor antiwar movement in terms of building
massive opposition to the war in Iraq?
> Nancy Wohlforth: The adoption of this resolution was a remarkable
accomplishment. It was the work of a lot of people, both in the
leadership and ranks of the unions, in US Labor Against the War and in
Pride at Work. But adopting a resolution is one thing, and translating
that resolution into action is another. So we need to disseminate the
antiwar resolution and the transcription of the convention discussion
widely among our members.
> We need to take our convention resolution to the shops and to
rank-and-file unit meetings. We must start organizing to get our unions
to mobilize on September 24th in Washington, San Francisco and Los
Angeles. Trade unionists have to be out in the streets in large
numbers. We must force this issue to the forefront of the discussion in
the Congress -- so that we can end the occupation and bring out troops
> Question: You were elected to the Executive Council of the
AFL-CIO. Tell us your assessment of this decision and why it is
important to all those defending the interests of working people and
all the oppressed.
> Nancy Wohlorth: For all those of us working in Pride at Work, it's
a tremendous victory. For years lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender
(LGBT) workers have been marginalized. Last election, the trade unions
and Democrats didn't confront the attacks on gay people. They tried to
duck the issue. This was unexcusable. It was a matter of civil rights
of working people who need Social Secutiry for their partners,
visitation rights in hospitals, retirement and healtchare for their
> The AFL-CIO finally heard this message. They heard it even more on
the resolution we passed on diversity. Civil rights have to be fully in
the forefront of the labor movement. This is a victory for the movement
I have been building since 1979.
> Question: Is there anything else you would like to add?
> Nancy Wohlforth: Yes, I want to make it clear that I don't see the
labor movement as being defeated by this split. It is not defeated. We
took a hard blow, but perhaps the conditions created by this split will
open a big discussion about all the problems we face as a labor
movement and all the big questions that will have to be addressed if we
are to survive and grow as a labor movement.
> Being on the Executive Council, I will get the message out to our
unions, to the rank-and-file, to the unorganized about what I think
needs to be done to turn this situation around in favor of working
people. I will continue to make sure that the State federations and
Central Labor Councils continue to function.
> And I can only hope that eventually we will see unions like SEIU
come back into the AFL-CIO. This is not the end. We have to continue to
call for the unity of the AFL-CIO. We have to continue to fight to
bring everyone together as much as we can.
* * * * ************************************************************
AFL-CIO 25th National Convention
Resolution 53 on Iraq
afternoon, July 26, 2005)
* Presentation of Resolution 53 by Leo Gerard, President of the
Steelworkers union, on behalf of the AFL-CIO's Resolutions
Resolution 53 deals with our country's military involvement in Iraq,
surely a difficult and contentious issue. The resolution applauds the
courage of our soldiers, insists that they be properly equipped with
protective fighting gear and armored vehicles, and calls for expanded
benefits for veterans and those returning from Iraq.
> It calls for our troops to be brought home as quickly as possible.
> And finally the resolution asserts that the bedrock of any
democracy is a free, democratic labor movement, and calls on the Iraqi
government to adopt new labor laws that conform to ILO standards.
> This resolution was submitted by the Executive Council and
subsumes Resolutions 35 to 39, and Resolution 56. Upon adoption of
Resolution 53, there will be no further action taken on the subsumed
> The many resolutions submitted on Iraq clearly reflect the very
strongly held views from around the country on the war in Iraq. There
were 18 different resolutions originally submitted by State Labor
Federations and Central Labor Councils, some of which were combined
before the resolutions were finalized.
> Resolution 53 reflects many months of consideration and discussion
by the International Affairs Committee of the AFL-CIO and more recently
this week by the Resolutions Committee.
> Mr. Chairman, this Committee recommends that Resolution 53 be
adopted. On behalf of the Committee, I so move.
> * Gerald McEntee, President of the American Federation of State,
County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and Chairperson of the
Convention Resolutions Committee:
> You heard the report of the committee. Do I hear support? Yes, I
hear support. The Chair understands that the delegate on microphone 3
is prepared to offer what the Federation believes is a friendly
amendment to Resolution 53. And I would like to invite delegate Fred
Mason to make such an amendment. Brother Mason ...
> * Fred Mason, President, Maryland State and District of Columbia
> Thank you very much. I'm Fred Mason, President of the Maryland
State and District of Columbia AFL-CIO and also a proud member of the
American Federation of Teachers.
> I rise today to offer a friendly amendment. This amendment would
change Paragraph 2, Line 9 and would simply change the words "as
quickly as possible" to "rapidly." I would urge for a second to this
friendly amendment. [spontaneous applause from the delegates]
> * Chairperson McEntee:
> The Chair deems this a friendly amendment. Does he have support? I
hear support. All those in favor of the friendly amendment signify by
saying "aye" [loud response]. Those opposed say "no" [no opposition
heard]. The "ayes" have it. Your amendment is friendly, brother.
> Fred Mason:
> Thank you very much. And if I may, President McEntee, I also would
like to express my pride in the work and deliberations of the Executive
Council in taking up this very important issue.
> * Chairperson McEntee:
> Good. Most of the International Affairs Committee, as Leo [Gerard]
said, worked very hard and very long. The delegate on mike 1 ...
> * Traven Leyshon, President, Washington-Orange-Lamoille Labor
> My name is Traven Leyshon. I am the President of the
Washington-Orange-Lamoille Labor Council in Vermont. Our labor council
is one of the 18 affiliates that submitted resolutions quite similar to
the one that we're discussing at this point. Our central labor council
and our Vermont State Federation call for supporting our troops by
bringing them home now [applause] to their families and loved ones. We
took this position only after careful consideration and building unity
among the membership and officers of our local unions and community
> By adopting this resolution we will join with unions representing
millions of members who have taken a stand for peace and against
occupation. To mention only a few: AFSCME, CWA, APWU, American
Federation of Musicians, many of our State Federations (California,
Washington, Wisconsin, Vermont, etc.), as well as numerous central
labor councils -- as well, of course, as SEIU and NEA. Indeed, I think,
this is a majority of organized labor.
> Many of our troops are union members, or they're from families of
union members, who face extraordinary danger with courage and
sacrifice. Bringing them home now is the best means of protecting and
> The Bush Administration is using the war and national security
hysteria to create a climate to attack civil liberties, collective
bargaining rights, and the right to organize. Just ask the Department
of Defense employees, the Transportation Security Administration
workers, or the West Coast longshoremen about the impact of the war on
> The Vermont AFL-CIO was a proud sponsor, along with many of you,
of a recent tour of Iraqi labor leaders who met with thousands of union
members across this country. The Iraqis gave voice to the working
people of Iraq -- until the tour a voice largely unheard in the U.S.
They issued a joint statement, which states in part:
> "The principal obstacle to peace, stability, and the
reconstruction of Iraq is the occupation. The occupation is the
problem, not the solution. Iraqi sovereignty and independence must be
restored. The occupation must end in all its forms, including military
bases and economic domination. ... The occupation has been a
catastrophe for both our peoples."
> As Resolution 53 concludes:
> "Iraq's workers and their institutions are already leaders in the
struggle for democracy. Trade unionists are being targeted for their
activism, and some have paid for their valor with their lives. ... In
concert with the international trade union movement, the AFL-CIO will
continue to provide our full solidarity to Iraq's workers as they lead
the struggle for and end to the violence and a more just and democratic
> Indeed, as the voice of the organized U.S. working class, we have
a responsibility to stand with Iraq's courageous labor movement, and to
fight to bring our troops home now! I thank you. [applause]
* Chairperson McEntee:
> Delegate mike 2 ...
> * Nancy Wohlforth, International Secretary Treasurer, Office and
Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) and National
Co-Chair, Pride at Work:
> My name is Nancy Wohlforth, and I'm with the Office and
Professional Employees International Union. I would just like to draw
the attention of all the delegates to the unionists who are here from
Iraq. Could you please stand up [addressing the Iraqi delegation in the
guest section of the convention hall] so we can all see you [standing
> I am very proud to know many of them as I have had the opportunity
to be a Co-convenor of U.S. Labor Against the War, which sponsored the
tour of six Iraqi trade unionists to the United States.
> The purpose of the tour was to educate trade union rank-and-file
members and trade union leaders to the real truth of what's going on in
Iraq. All too often, all we hear are the lies and deceit of the Bush
administration that put us in Iraq on a lot of false pretexts and keeps
us in Iraq for absolutely no good reason except to enrich his cronies
in Halliburton and other such companies. [applause]
> We asked the Iraqi trade unionists to tell us honestly what they
believe about this war and what they want American working people to do
to help them in their struggle to build unions, justice and equity and
fairness in the work place, and get their lives back together so that
can have running water, electricity and gasoline. ... We asked them
what they wanted.
> And I'll tell you what they want: They want an end to the U.S.
occupation [applause]. They want it now, and not yesterday [applause].
Because as long as we are there, they can never really achieve their
self-determination and build a truly democratic state.
> So we in U.S. Labor Against the War say to the Iraqi unionists:
Thank you for telling us what you think; now it's our responsibility to
get the word out to every single trade union in the country that we
must tell George Bush that we are sick and tired of his lies, and we
are sick and tired of the massive deficit that is built up supporting
this war while schools are going down the drain, while our working
people are being laid off, and while so many other vital needs are not
being dealt with.
> That is why we must now mobilize and bring people to a massive
demonstration in Washington on September 24. Thank you very much.
> * Chairperson McEntee:
> Thank you. Delegate mike 3 ...
> * Brooks Sunkett, Vice President, Communication Workers of America
> Mr. Chairman, brothers and sisters. My name is Brooks Sunkett, and
I'm from CWA.
> I rise in support of this resolution for many reasons. Number one:
I'm a Vietnam veteran. And this war seems very similar to that war.
Lies were told to me then, and lies are being told to me now. [long
> We were told that there were weapons of mass destruction -- and,
as we all know, there were no weapons of mass destruction.
> Number two: This war is tearing our country apart.
> Number three: The cost of the war is putting our public sector
services at stake. I am also a public sector worker. And 250 million
dollars a day is being spent on this war. All together, 200 billion
dollars have been spent. That means sacrificing the public sector
infrastructure of this country.
> Number four: How many more men and women need to die, how many
more families need to be torn apart, how many more of our sons and
daughters need to be maimed because of this war?
> It was a mistake to go to war, and it is a mistake to stay in.
[loud and long applause]
> Number five: The people of Iraq don't want us there. We lied to
get there, and they would like for us to leave. All we are doing is
exacerbating a very bad situation.
> On behalf of working families, on behalf of our communities, on
behalf of our sons and daughters, on behalf of families everywhere, I
urge all of you to support this resolution. [applause]
> * Chairperson McEntee:
> Thank you brother. Delegate mike 4 ...
> * David Newby, President, Wisconsin State AFL-CIO:
> Chairman McEntee, brothers and sisters: My name is David Newby and
I'm President of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, one of the state
federations that submitted resolutions to this convention.
> Both of the resolutions we submitted were passed last September at
our State AFL-CIO Convention. To be perfectly honest with you, I
expected there to be a lot of debate over those resolutions. I've never
in my experience in the labor movement not seen a situation where a
resolution on an international affairs issue came before a convention
that was not extremely contentious.
> As a result, I was really quite surprised that these were not
contentious resolutions. One called for an end to the occupation in
Iraq, the other called for the restoration of the right of Iraqi
workers to organize and form unions. There was almost no opposition.
And in fact, my hunch is that there were fewer than 10 out of the many
hundreds of delegates present who voted against these resolutions.
> I think this was because, number one, our delegates were outraged
that President Bush and members of his administration lied to us in
order to start this war -- a war that was planned probably from the
very first day that he became president. And they were outraged as
well, I think, because as a result of that war -- which we got into
because of lies to the American people and to Congress -- over 1,700 of
our men and women in uniform have died, and tens of thousands of Iraqis
civilians have died.
> And those 1,700 men and women in uniform come almost completely
from working families. They are our members, or the sons and daughters
of our members.
> I urge you very strongly to adopt this resolution. I think it is
carefully crafted. And I think it sends a message both to the President
and to the American people that we simply must end this war and end
this outrage that has been visited upon us by President Bush. [loud
> * Chairperson McEntee:
> Thank you brother. Delegate mike 1 ...
> * Tom Lee, President, American Federation of Musicians:
> I'm Tom Lee, President of the American Federation of Musicians. I
rise in support of Resolution 53. Last week at our 96th Convention our
delegates supported a resolution similar to the one we have before us.
> I don't think there's anybody in this room who wouldn't support
the overthrow of a dictatorial regime. There's no one in this room who
wouldn't support the right for people throughout our world to enjoy
basic human rights -- and there is nobody in this room who wouldn't
support the right to self-determination.
> However, this administration has embarked on a new and dangerous
path: a pre-emptive war without an imminent threat to the U.S. This is
a policy that makes us less secure, increases the threat of terrorism,
and has put Iraq on a path of civil war, rather than on the path of a
> There's a general agreement in the United States and throughout
the world that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction that posed
an imminent threat to this country or to Iraq's neighbors. In fact, the
only weapons of mass destruction were the bombs and missiles that were
falling out of our own planes on the poor people of Iraq, who are being
killed and maimed.
> The war and the military occupation of Iraq have cost the lives of
over 1,700 troops, the wounding and disabling of thousands more, and
the death, by some estimates, of over 150,000 Iraqi civilians, with
casualties among soldiers of other nations and the devastation of much
of that country.
> Last week we heard an impassioned plea from one of our delegates
who was in the Korean War. This gentleman stood up and said, "I wish, I
truly wish somebody when I was in the Korean War had introduced a
resolution like this and kept my ass out of those bunkers." [applause]
He said, "I was scared, I was afraid, we were all afraid. I still
suffer from nightmares because nobody had the courage to stand up and
get me out of those bunkers."
> We recognize the courage of U.S. military troops, many of whom are
members or relatives of members of various unions, including all of the
unions of the AFL-CIO and other organizations. But the war and
occupation of Iraq have cost over 200 billion dollars, leading directly
to cuts in social and human services, education, music and arts
programs, and even benefits for the very veterans from this and other
> Our workers and their families face growing domestic challenges,
unemployment, declining wages and benefits, de-unionization of the work
force, reduced public services, cutbacks in health care and education
services, cuts in veterans' benefits, threatened cuts in Social
Security, escalating public debt -- as well as sharp declines in the
funding for music and the arts.
> We support Resolution 53. We want to bring our troops home. We
should start a movement to bring our troops home now and reorder the
priorities of this administration to bring health care and bring back
the things that people need. Thank you. [loud applause]
> * Chairperson McEntee:
> Thank you brother. Delegate mike 2 ...
> * Henry Nicholas, President, AFSCME 1199 (Pennsylvania)
> Mr. Chairman, my name is Henry Nicholas, and I'm a delegate from
AFSCME. I stand before the delegates as one of those patriots. My son
has been called back to Iraq four times already, and he's on the list
to go back now. He talks of the lack of equipment for the servicemen.
> But there is another side of that. Most of our sons and daughters
serving in Iraq, when they come home, there is no help here. My son is
a nervous wreck right now, but he's on the list to go back. He knows
that when he comes back home, there will be no jobs here.
> We need to say that the sons and daughters of the American
families should come home now! [applause]
> And I must say to all the members of this labor movement that I'm
so proud. This is my proudest moment being a union member, because in
all the 49 years that I've been coming to these conventions, this is
the first time we've had the moral courage to stand up and say "Enough
> Thank you so very much. [loud applause]
> * Chairperson McEntee:
> Thank you brother. Delegate mike 3
> * Tim Paulson, Executive Director, San Francisco Labor Council:
> My name is Tim Paulson and I'm the Executive Director of the San
Francisco Labor Council. Early on, the delegates to our Council
realized that this was a distortion of the values of working men and
women in our country. All this money that is being spent on bombs and
occupation could have been used for health care, jobs, and
infrastructure. It could have been used for the things that working men
and women absolutely value. That's what we believe in.
> Very early on, we passed a resolution that said that we must bring
the troops home immediately! We believe, as Jesse Jackson said today,
that we must "Brings the troops home!" "Bring the troops home!"
> We believe that when you say "rapidly," that would be the same as
"immediately" -- and that is why we are going to support this
> I also want to thank our brothers and sisters of U.S. Labor
Against the War for the hard work they have done across the country
[loud applause] to make sure we are all aware of, and united around,
this issue -- which is an issue of central concern to all working men
and women. Thank you.
> * Chairperson McEntee:
> Thank you, brother. Delegate mike 4 ...
> * Tom Hobart, Vice President from New York, American Federation of
> Mr. Chairman, I'm Tom Hobart, American Federation of Teachers,
Vice President from New York. The AFT supports this well-crafted
resolution that is before us. I know everybody in this room wants peace
both in America and in Iraq. But there is not going to be peace in
America or in Iraq today ... or tomorrow.
> More Americans every day realize that President Bush misled us on
why we went to war, and he also poorly executed that war. But we are
> All of us, everyone in America I'm sure supports our men and women
in uniform who are over there. But what we are going to have to do is
make sure that they are removed safely, and that the people in Iraq are
> Remember that the terrorists are not only killing American service
people, they are also killing Iraqis. And we cannot leave there, and
leave the terrorists in charge of that country, in which we went in and
disrupted the order that was there, however bad it was, and then have a
killing field like we saw in Cambodia.
> I urge the delegates to pass this resolution that was carefully
crafted in order to stand in a position that does what is right in a
war that maybe was started for the very wrong reasons.
> * Chairperson McEntee:
> Thank you brother. Delegate mike 1 ...
> Mr. Chairman. I'm with the American Federation of Teachers. I move
to close the discussion.
> Chairman McEntee:
> The motion has been made to move the previous question and close
the discussion. All those in favor of closing the debate signify by
saying "aye." All those opposed say "no." The "ayes" have it.
> Before you is amended Resolution 53. Debate has been closed. We'll
vote on the amended resolution. All those in favor signify by saying
aye" [overwhelming majority]. All those opposed say "no" [a few voices].
> The "ayes" have it. So ordered. [loud applause]
> [Convention discussion on Iraq Resolution 53 transcribed verbatim
f from audio tape by Donna Kesselman and Alan Benjamin]
Francis McCollum Feeley
Professor of American Studies/
Director of Research
Université de Grenoble-3