[Documents menu] Documents menu

From: Bill Fletcher <bfletcher4@compuserve.com>
To: brc-news@lists.tao.ca <brc-news@lists.tao.ca>
Subject: [BRC-NEWS] Making Internationalism A Reality
Date: Wednesday, May 03, 2000 1:08 AM

May Day: Making Internationalism A Reality

By Bill Fletcher, Jr. <bfletcher4@compuserve.com>,
1 May 2000

In a recent trip to South Africa I recalled the solidarity efforts which many African-American activists have engaged in over the years. The efforts, particularly with the end of World War II, to support anti-colonial struggles in Africa marked an important intervention by Black America. In the 60s and 70s efforts emerged with a new generation of African-American activists to support the struggles against Portuguese colonialism (which until 1975 controlled Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau and the Cape Verde Islands), and against the white supremacist regimes in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and South Africa. These efforts led to different organizational forms, such as the African Liberation Support Committee and years later the Free South Africa Movement. The sources of this support tended to be drawn from ideological orientations, moral concerns and/or racial consciousness.

There is something very different emerging on the world stage. A recent congress of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (held, I should add, in Durban, South Africa), a grouping which represents labor federations from countries around the world, illustrated these changes remarkably. The ICFTU was created at the beginning of the Cold War, largely as a vehicle in the union movement to fight the influence of communists and radicals. With the end of the Cold War, however, all sorts of alignments have altered. Old enemies have often found themselves interacting in a new and different way, in large part because of the impact of globalization. Indeed, I think that it is safe to say that the ICFTU has been pushed forward by the currents of globalization into a role its founders probably never would have anticipated.

When we talk about globalization one should not think of this as the same as Global economy. Globalization is an orchestrated process by governments and economic elites to address many of the problems which capitalism has been facing over the last 20-30 years by reorganizing the world economy at the expense of working people. This has been made that much easier by the end of the Cold War, but also the developments of new technologies which make cross-border communication and exchange that much easier, and that much faster. Globalization involves the hyper-mobility of capital (financial transactions at the push of a button), the internationalization of production (multi-national corporations which can and do produce commodities across borders or shift production from one country to another for any number of reasons), and the interpenetration of markets, usually under the banner of "free trade" (everything is up for investment it often appears).

The process of globalization has been advanced by an ideological battering ram called economic neo-liberalism. This is the ideological justification for the changes underway, particularly the attack on the public sector and the worshiping of the private sector.

What was striking at the ICFTU World Congress is that country after country finds itself the victims of this process of globalization. Not only that, but union members in most countries find themselves facing the same or similar opponents, and certainly facing the same ideological arguments.

By way of example, privatization and subcontracting, which many of us tended to think of as a local problem, or perhaps a national phenomenon, is quite international. Globally, privatization is not limited to a department in a government agency. Entire portions of economies which had previously operated within the public sphere, and which had been subject to public accountability, are now being turned over to private entrepreneurs, individuals and companies which face little oversight.

Efforts, such as privatization, are being sold to us as a way of making work more efficient and encouraging development. Yet little is said about the loss of jobs and the impact that this has on entire communities.

At the ICFTU World Congress the menace of privatization was a matter under discussion by all the delegations. Not only that, but it became obvious that workers in many countries found themselves at odds with the same companies. The multi-national or transnational corporations try to play off workers against one another. If they cannot get a good deal in the USA, they go or threaten to go to Mexico. If the Mexican workers do not budge and do not offer enough concessions, perhaps they relocate to Paraguay. This is not to say that each and every company can or will move, but the multi-national corporations have so buffaloed millions of workers into believing that fighting back is fruitless and that the best that they can do is make the beating a little less rough.

I was struck by the unions in Africa, many of which have emerged from periods of military dictatorships, colonial rule or neo-colonial sham democracies. In meeting with these union activists I took note of three basic points. One, the willingness to fight. Two, the interest in solidarity. Three, the importance of the union as an organization which can bring workers together across various divides.

What was clear from the South African unions, as well as representatives from other federations, such as the Nigerian Labor Congress, is that they see themselves as speaking for working class people, whether those workers are in unions or not. As such, their notion of fighting back is not only fighting back when workers in a particular workplace which is represented by a union is under attack. Rather they are attempting to speak to what is happening to the workers in their countries.

The second noteworthy point is the interest in working with workers across borders when facing a common opponent. Most glaringly this takes the form of common employers multi-national corporations which are spread across the globe. The consciousness of the need for solidarity across borders was not limited to the leaders, but was something which one encountered at other levels of the organization. Many of these union activists found it hard to grasp why workers in the USA so often fail to understand that their interests [those of US workers] lie in reaching out to workers in other countries rather than in viewing such workers as opponents.

Three, is the importance of the union as an organization which can bring workers together. In an era where ethnic and racial antagonisms have flared up at an alarming rate and where genocide has become the method of choice in eliminating potential competitors, unions such as the Nigerian Labor Congress see their role quite explicitly as bringing about inter-ethnic unity. I thought about the situation in the USA with the rivalries which take place, not only across the racial divide between African-Americans and whites, but also between African-Americans and other workers of color. The beneficiary of these rivalries is never one or the other group, but rather our common oppressor. This single fact is central to the consciousness of many of the union activists I encountered and served as a point of profound inspiration.

So, we are celebrating May Day 2000 and I think that it is time for Black activists to rethink this day. This needs to be a day for a different sort of solidarity than we have often practiced in the past. The enemy is not as obvious as a Portuguese fighter plane strafing villagers in Mozambique, or an apartheid era police officer unleashing dogs and bullets on demonstrators. The enemies which we face in common more often than not sit tens of stories up in wonderful offices, cut off from the rest of the world except electronically. They come in many shapes, sizes and colors, speaking a myriad of languages. They share in common a contempt for workers, and a desire to enrich themselves with our blood. The type of solidarity needed now is between those of us who are ravaged by these agents of globalization.

What struck me is that this solidarity goes far beyond moral platitudes. It really goes to survival and answering the basic question of who will decide our collective future: those behind those plate-glass windows, or the people who work every day in order to survive. The developing labor movements in Africa and other parts of the so-called underdeveloped world are far in advance of us in answering that question.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is Assistant to the President of the AFL-CIO, and the National Organizer of the Black Radical Congress. The views expressed in this article are his own.

Copyright (c) 2000 Bill Fletcher, Jr. All Rights Reserved.

[Articles on BRC-NEWS may be forwarded and posted on other mailing lists, as long as the wording/attribution is not altered in any way. In particular, if there is a reference to a web site where an article was originally located, please do *not* remove that.

Unless stated otherwise, do *not* publish or post the entire text of any articles on web sites or in print, without getting *explicit* permission from the article author or copyright holder. Check the fair use provisions of the copyright law in your country for details on what you can and can't do.

BRC-NEWS: Black Radical Congress - General News Articles/Reports
Subscribe: Email "subscribe brc-news" to <majordomo@tao.ca>
Unsubscribe: Email "unsubscribe brc-news" to <majordomo@tao.ca>
Digest: Email "subscribe brc-news-digest" to <majordomo@tao.ca>
Archive: http://www.egroups.com/group/brc-news (When accessing for the first time, set the "Delivery Mode" to "Read On The Web Only")
Questions/Problems: Send email to <worker-brc-news@lists.tao.ca>
www.blackradicalcongress.org | BRC | blackradicalcongress@email.com