Bulletin #202



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16 October 2005
Grenoble, France

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 citizens.

Item A. 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.)

Item C. is a series of six separate accounts of the AFL-CIO convention in Chicago sent to us by Professor Donna Kesselman 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
The Courier-Journal

CAFTA: 'Sweatshop Labor'
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, click here.

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
          unity that signified complacency was dissolved. The problem now is what can workers expect from the
          fissure? Will the defectors form a new federation? How can they fulfill their promise to launch a massive
          organizing drive in the current reactionary political environment? And can an alliance which embraces
          quite disparate forces help revive the somnambulism that has afflicted labor’s ranks for more than two
          decades? Are those who split the kind of leaders that are capable of calling on the rank and file to mount
          resistance to the ongoing corporate offensive against wages and working conditions? And why should we
          expect this alliance to make a radical departure from the unimaginative program, and political
          subservience to the Democratic Party that has marked the decade long record of the Sweeney
          administration? To gain perspective on these questions we might find it useful to revisit the moment of
          the AFL-CIO merger. Such a look might clarify why Organized Labor has suffered such devastating
          defeats since the late 1970s and why, despite the growth of the Service Employees (SEIU), whose
          president is the main antagonist in the conflict, the rest of the unions, including those that defected with
          him, are suffering the same stagnation and decline as most others.
          After twenty years of separation, CIO president Walter Reuther who led the largest of three very powerful
          industrial unions, the Auto Workers, brought some four and a half million CIO members consisting of 20
          international unions back into the Federation. It was not a marriage made in heaven.  Having purged
          so-called Left Wing unions from the CIO, in which communists played an important role, Reuther and his
          fellow CIO unionists shared with the AFL many things: with almost no exceptions they shared the fervent
          conviction that 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
          potent ideological weapon that glued the labor movement to the priorities of the war machine and a
          weapon which also thwarted Labor’s reform agenda for a half century. Capitalism and the large United
          States 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,
          although Reuther 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, whose
          capitulation to 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 organization. He
          predicted the 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 uncomfortable
          second in command.
          During the 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
          corporations (at least at the top), Reuther signed the first five year contract with the auto corporations.
          Among other departures from the past, the agreement contained a rigid no-strike clause, in return for
          binding arbitration to address workers’ grievances. Within a decade, under the slogan of labor peace,
          other unions 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
          Chrysler. 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 discharges.
          By 1955, despite relatively high wages and, in the wake of the defeat of national health insurance in
          1949, the elements of a private welfare state that  the UAW negotiated with a high-flying management,
          worker resentment was smoldering and soon broke out in a series of wildcat strikes, even as the merger
          was being consummated. As a result the UAW brass was forced to take a step back; the contract was
          modified to permit strikes over discharges and onerous working conditions, but the leadership never
          recanted its embrace of labor peace. Like his counterpart in the Steelworkers union, the ever
          accommodating David McDonald, Reuther toured the auto plants in the company of high ranking
          company executives to signal the union’s determination to cooperate with the introduction of new
          technologies and with companies’ drive for higher productivity. Declaring that the key to full employment
          and raised living standards was worker productivity, Reuther all but renounced the union’s tradition of
          fighting for shorter hours and for greater worker voices in setting production norms.
          In time, Reuther changed his position on United States foreign policy, sharply criticized Meany for his
          subservience to 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
          Democratic Party as a junior partner, but, despite a rash of wildcat strikes against speedup in the auto
          industry, particularly in Lordstown, and Norwood, Ohio, the UAW, no less than the rest of Organized
          Labor, remained ideologically committed to class collaboration.
          With the 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
          hostility, towards the new social movements that emerged during the decade. Some union women
          formed the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), which joined with other women’s organizations in
          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
          majority women, blacks and Latinos. Unions like the State, County and Municipal Employees, the
          Teachers, and 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 rights, gradually
          joined the anti-Vietnam war protest and conducted militant strikes at the public workplace, which
          prompted some legislatures to outlaw strikes by public employees. By the late 1980s, unions
           represented a third of public employees and were setting their sights on the health care field which
          although largely part of the non-profit private sector is heavily subsidized by government and by
          union-negotiated pre-paid health insurance.
          The SEIU’s rise from a medium sized union of janitors and doormen into the largest union in the country
          is due, primarily, to its intervention into the public and health sectors. While it never fails to remind the
          public and fellow unionists that it has transformed itself by devoting a large portion of its treasury to
          organizing, its growth owes as much to its former president John Sweeney and its current chief Andy
          Stern’s shrewd business sense. SEIU has been built on some important campaigns, especially among
          the working poor, but its  growth owes as much to mergers and acquisitions of existing independent
          public employees 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 president­and the
          two leaders of UNITE HERE, Bruce Raynor and John Wilhelm are not bereft of tactical imagination and
          significant resources with which to conduct an aggressive organizing campaign. But in most other
          respects they are in the old mold of top-down bureaucratic unionism.
          Consider the decision to split from the AFL-CIO. No doubt each union consulted with its executive board,
          composed mostly or exclusively of full-time paid officials of the union. But, consistent with the
          predominant mode of organization in today’s unions the rank and file was not part of the process by
          which the decision was arrived at. Some locals of all of the splitters did call meetings to discuss the
          withdrawal. The leaders, however, acted unilaterally. In democratic organizations such radical steps
          would surely be preceded by a genuine debate among the members where the pros and cons can be
          rehearsed, resolutions entertained from the locals and a public convention and/ or a referendum held to
          determine what 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 attacking
          Sweeney’s 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
          campaign. And there is not a whisper about what may be one of the most important tasks facing
          workers: in the face of media complicity and indifference to the problems of working people, to the
          economic and social crisis facing many of them, the Coalition that boycotted the convention has
          indicated no plans to start a national daily or weekly general circulation newspaper, buy radio and
          television stations, conduct an otherwise intense campaign to get its message across to the public.
          Equally salient, the nature of the contemplated organizing campaign promises to remain quite
          conventional, dominated by paid staff rather recruiting from the rank and file and organizing from the
          bottom, seeking 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
          organizing workers whether there is a practical chance of a contract or not. Needless to say, the new
          coalition 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
          employees. But 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 terrified
          to face the employer’s wrath under various labor relations laws that give them few breaks, we hear no
          conversation about how to open new avenues for worker voices.
          Nor is there special sensitivity to the obvious changes that have occurred in the workplace, particularly
          the dominant 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
          issues, but neither Sweeney nor Stern has spoken about its potential and certainly have not taken the
          opportunity to articulate labor’s voice in cyberspace. These changes have altered the nature of the labor
          force, bringing into existence millions of credentialed and technically trained workers who, except in the
          public sector, are largely outside of the unions. It is true that SEIU has paid some attention to the
          problems faced 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 all-encompassing
          strategy to 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
          Communications Workers (Sweeney loyalists), has failed to come to terms with the 21st century
          Some labor intellectuals and activists have welcomed the new departure as an opportunity. The best of
          their arguments 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
          sector unionism in the 1960s were marked by intense competition within the labor movement. But these
          were the greatest periods of union growth. If two or more unions fight for representation of a group of
          workers, the non-union option is often marginalized. Some argue that even the conservative unions,
          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 must be
          acknowledged that under the existing regime of no competition in organizing workers have few
          alternatives to get out from under an oppressive union administration. Rather than promising more chaos,
          the new 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 independent organization.
          But since the Teamsters returned to the AFL-CIO fold in the post-James R. Hoffa era, competitive
          unionism has fallen on hard times. Some claim this is one key reason for falling membership.
          The question is whether the splitters can muster the rhetoric and the style that attracts workers.
          Whatever its practices, until the 1970s, the Teamsters paraded an image of economic power that was
          unrivalled by its AFL-CIO competitors most of whom were making nice to the bosses. The Teamsters
          had success because they offered a program of resistance. Are there any sections of  Organized Labor
          that even 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 organizers
          who do not inspire them with a spirit to fight the boss, who cannot prepare them for the inevitable
          employer offensive, who do not promise to recruit workers to a new social movement that, at least,
          recognizes that American capitalism and its anti-labor laws and practices is the problem? Stern and
          company have 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?
          The fundamental 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
          wages, the proliferation of temporary and contingent work and the profound regression in the already
          weakened system of industrial and labor relations? That’s the first question. I want to suggest that
          organizing more workers is only one and perhaps not the most important condition for mounting a
          counter-offensive. The sufficient condition is the emergence of a Left within the labor movement that
          forces the 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
          in incoherent and fragmented ways.
          Stanley 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

 Dear Colleagues,
 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 interviews.

. The 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.

. The 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 avoided.
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 unions’ continued participation in these area groupings as in the federation’s constituency groups, John Sweeney responded – and quite understandably from his perspective – 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.

. The 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 history.
> 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 is 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 of Turmoil
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, reporting.

* * * * **********************************************************
> 06/08/05
> 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 country¹s working class.
> One of the many reporters covering the AFL-CIO¹s "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 labor¹s 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. Government¹s 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.² 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 HIV/AIDS."
> 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 chance anyway!"
> 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.
 A Key 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 done.
> 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 front.
> 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.

 Concluding Commentary
> "This is another fine mess you've gotten us into!" -- Hardy to Laurel
> 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 today¹s 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 direction.
> 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 Reveiw

24 July 2005, Chicago
> by Jerry Tucker
> Highlights
> * 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 America¹s 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, 6:00 PM
> 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 President¹s 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 unions¹ 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."
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> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
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 Chicago¹s 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 ³House of Labor² 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 ³chosen a course and strength for the American Labor Movement.² And how this was ³the beginning of a new era for America¹s workers.²
> 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 CTW¹s 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 NAACP¹s 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 today¹s agenda. Those contentious issues will come up later in the week. We will discuss those and other convention related activities in future posts.
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26 July 2005
> by Jerry Tucker
> AFL-CIO Votes against Bush's War:
> Smaller AFL-CIO Gets Down to Business
> On scale, today¹s activities at the AFL-CIO Convention were almost routine and even a little dull. Dull that is compared to the excitement of Sunday¹s 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 traditional ways.
> In light of what already happened, news to report becomes a little skimpy. There were more political speeches in the morning, including by Chicago¹s 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 Jackson.
> 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 ³get on the third rail where the juice is² 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 Federation¹s 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 Administration¹s 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 we¹ll go hunting for them. One area of real internal dispute clearly remains: the continued activities of the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center¹s 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, ³the ashes of the great martyred IWW icon, Joe Hill, would be on display.² 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?
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- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
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 big split.
> 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 support.
> 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 cluster.
> 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 included.
> 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.
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> **** * * * * * * * * * ************************************************************

> 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 began
> to give her fellow delegates a dose of straight, unvarnished truth.
> "All we hear are the lies and deceit of the Bush administration," she
> called out, "that put us in Iraq on a false pretext, and keep us in
> 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 to
> the AFL-CIO convention.
> "I'll tell you what they want," she thundered. "They want an end to
> the U.S. occupation." Applause broke into her speech. "They want it
> now, and not yesterday." The applause got stronger. "Because as long
> as we are there, they can never really achieve self-determination and
> build a truly democratic state."
> She brought the house down.
> Wohlforth, whose face breaks into sharp angles around flashing eyes,
> is a piece of San Francisco in Washington, DC. As
> secretary-treasurer of the Office and Professional Employees union,
> she's now one of the highest-ranking labor leaders in the country.
> She heads Pride at Work, the national organization of gay and lesbian
> 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 of
> 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 political
> and economic power. The war may seem far away from these more
> concrete concerns, but many labor activists, looking at the blood on
> the floor after the convention ended, connected the dots. What labor
> 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 to
> 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 to
> be prepared to talk about something we've been afraid to say out loud
> - that capitalism is harmful to the health of workers," he said in an
> interview. "Something is fundamentally wrong with the priorities of
> 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 the
> "rapid withdrawal" of US troops from Iraq. For progressive trade
> unionists, it was a bright moment, but one that came in dark times.
> San Francisco's Tim Paulson connected the dots for his fellow
> delegates between the war and the problems facing workers closer to
> home. According to the city's central labor council secretary, "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 value. That's
> what we believe in."
> Nationally, unions face a serious crisis of declining numbers. Just
> 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 all
> workers, and 8% in the private sector, are union members. They're
> mostly concentrated in the urban areas on each coast, and the former
> industrial belt of the Midwest, leaving workers in large parts of the
> 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. But
> 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 public
> worker unions to engage in any meaningful political action.
> So this might not be such a good time for labor to split ranks, but
> that's just what has happened. On the first day of the AFL-CIO
> convention, two unions quit the labor federation - its largest union,
> the Service Employees International Union, with 1.8 million members,
> 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 United
> 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 new
> 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 with
> 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. Public
> 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 marchers
> 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 not.
> Like Wohlforth, they're tired of seeing their movement remain quiet
> 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 it
> 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 of
> 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. The
> 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 to
> invade Iraq, union activists began organizing a national network to
> oppose it, US Labor Against the War. What started as a collection of
> small groups, in a handful of unions, has today to become a coalition
> of unions representing over a million members.
> Watching from the visitors' gallery were the Iraqi union leaders to
> 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
> occupation.
> In May two of the Iraqis, Hassan Juma'a and Faleh Abood, leaders of
> 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 in
> 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 believed
> 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 right."
> The debate at the convention was the answer to the call. Starting in
> 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 the
> 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 a
> fight was in store, and suddenly unsure of their ability to win it,
> AFL-CIO staff agreed. When the proposal for rapid withdrawal was put
> on the floor, Paulson made clear that "when you say 'rapidly,' that
> would be the same as 'immediately' -- and that is why we are going to
> support this resolution." The new language was adopted with the votes
> of an overwhelming majority.
> The resolution marks a watershed moment in modern US labor history.
> It is the product of grassroots action at the bottom of the US labor
> 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 called
> on to fight the war. A growing number, now a majority in US unions,
> 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 pronouncements.
> 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 begun
> 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 we're
> 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 they
> resist the transformation of their country for the benefit of a
> wealthy global elite.
> The debate over Iraq highlights an important problem, however. Union
> members are becoming more sophisticated, and better at understanding
> the way global issues, from war to trade, affect the lives of people
> in the streets of US cities. But the percentage of union members is
> declining, and the organization they need to put that understanding
> 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 the
> main subject of debate in unions. In fact, it was often submerged in
> a much different discussion, where participants mostly talked about a
> crisis of survival. The proposals for changing the direction of US
> unions, which finally culminated in the split, had very little to do
> with foreign policy, and much more with the structural problems that
> keep unions from acting effectively.
> The best local example of the issues at stake is the yearlong saga of
> San Francisco's hotel workers. Inspired by the idea of unions in many
> 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 have
> 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 if
> the union orms a common front of workers in city after city, they'll
> be able to win a new standard of living that individual local unions
> 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, however,
> they were forced to accept substantially lower wages and conditions
> because the chains kept stores open, making profits, in the rest of
> the country. The lesson for unions here was that regional bargaining
> with huge multinational companies no longer works. What was lacking
> 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 divided
> 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 dismantling
> of the retirement system they spent decades building. If one company
> went bankrupt (as United threatened to do), its workers could easily
> be absorbed by other airlines - if there was only one union and one
> contract.
> 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 are
> now among the highest of US industrial workers. Solidarity worked.
> Last year, therefore, many unions began making proposals for changing
> the way they operate. The discussion started in San Francisco, at
> SEIU's August convention, when President Andy Stern called for deep
> structural change. Then, after labor lost the 2004 presidential
> election, the union issued a 10-point proposal called Unite To Win.
> It immediately stirred intense controversy, and other unions
> responded.
> The most controversial item of the 10 points would give the AFL-CIO
> the authority to require small unions to merge into ones large enough
> to have strength to bargain and organize. The federation would also
> make sure that workers in the same industry would no longer be split
> among many unions. "Take the airline industry," said Stern in an
> interveiw, "where unions are divided by craft, by companies, by union
> and non-union. We have to look in the mirror and be honest. When we
> divide the strength of workers, and we don't have a united strategy,
> workers pay the price."
> Many unions disagreed violently that they should be forced to merge.
> 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 fund
> strategic campaigns to organize new members. AFL-CIO President John
> Sweeney (himself a former president of SEIU, and Stern's mentor) said
> the federation should increase spending on organizing, but put even
> 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 region,
> says yes. "No one is going to save us," he said in an interview, "no
> politician or public official, no matter how well-intentioned. We
> can only save ourselves. To do that, we need to reach out and bring
> a lot more people into our movement. Politics is part of the
> solution, but we must also mobilize the millions of workers who would
> join a union if given the opportunity.
> "We felt we need to rebate 50% of per capita back to unions willing
> 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 rest
> of the resources allocated to politics. That was a clear-cut
> difference - what they proposed was just not sufficient to do the
> job."
> Others were not so sure. Some simply opposed dividing labor's
> strength while it is under attack. But others felt the debate hadn't
> gone far enough. Bill Fletcher is one of the latter. After the
> reform administration of John Sweeney was elected in 1995, he became
> 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 unions
> suffer from a profound conservatism, a failure to recognize the kinds
> 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 assumptions
> 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 is
> headed. The debate over Iraq at the AFL-CIO convention adds
> substance and politics to a discussion dominated by dollars and
> structure.
> Labor needs that deeper discussion desperately. Lost, for instance,
> 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 upsurge
> from labor's base forced another change in basic policy onto the
> convention's floor. Unions rejected their former position of support
> for employer sanctions, the provision of the 1986 Immigration Reform
> 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 needs
> of big corporations. Immigrant rights advocates have traditionally
> opposed these programs as exploitative - virtual involuntary
> servitude.
> One of those bills, the Kennedy/McCain Bill, is being supported by
> some of labor's national political operatives, with no discussion in
> 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 rights
> 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 street
> heat to change the terms of a poisonous political environment in
> Washington.
> Instead, even in progressive unions, what you get is Washington
> beltway deal making. As Fletcher says, debate has to get much
> sharper.
> And in the meantime, unions in San Francisco, and its labor council,
> 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, the
> executive director of the city's big public workers union, SEIU Local
> 790, is the council's president. So far, Mooney hasn't tendered a
> letter of resignation, and according to Medina, "we need to continue
> working together at the local and state level, and hope the AFL-CIO
> takes the same position." he says.
> Around the country, unions have close relationships they hardly want
> to cast aside. Further, most councils are very dependent on the dues
> 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
> activity.
> Councils do most of the heavy lifting during elections, like the one
> 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 with
> 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 full,
> 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," he
> said hopefully in a recent interview. "Our SEIU, Teamsters and UFCW
> 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 participates
> 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 merged
> 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 the wings.

* * * * * * * * * * **********************************************
" Interview 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), ilcinfo@earthlink.net.
> --------------------
> 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 time.
> 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 activists.
> 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 1930s.
> 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 people say.
> 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 "humane globalization."
> 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 it.
> 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 newsletter.
> 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 home, NOW!
> 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 partners.
> 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
Chicago, Illinois

Debate on Resolution 53 on Iraq
 (Tuesday 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 resolutions.
> 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 AFL-CIO:
> 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 Council (Vermont):
> 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 allies.
> 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 honoring them.
> 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 workers' rights.
> 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 nation."
> 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 ovation].
> 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. [applause]
> * Chairperson McEntee:
> Thank you. Delegate mike 3 ...
> * Brooks Sunkett, Vice President, Communication Workers of America (CWA):
> 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 applause]
> 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 applause]
> * 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 democratic society.
> 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 conflicts.
> 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 is 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 resolution.
> 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 Teachers:
> 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 there.
> 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 also safe.
> 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
Grenoble, France