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Date: Sat, 9 Dec 1995 07:22:03 GMT
Sender: Activists Mailing List <ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.missouri.edu>
From: Rich Winkel <rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu>
Organization: PACH
Subject: Will the new AFL/CIO Change its Cold War Policies?
To: Multiple recipients of list ACTIV-L <ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.missouri.edu>

/** headlines: 150.0 **/
** Topic: will the new AFL change direction? **
** Written 9:45 AM Dec 7, 1995 by newsdesk in cdp:headlines **
From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>

/* Written 10:27 PM Dec 5, 1995 by dbacon in igc:labr.newsline */
/* ---------- "will the new AFL change direction?" ---------- */

Will the AFL-CIO's New Leaders Change its Old Cold War Policies?

By David Bacon
29 October 1995

NEW YORK (10/29/95) Q Dan Lane was almost the last person to speak, on the last day of the AFL-CIO convention which concluded last week. The day before, John Sweeney was chosen president in the first contested election in a hundred years. Lane himself was in the 56th day of a hunger strike, trying to rally the labor movement to stop the destruction of his union at the Staley plant in Decatur, Illinois.

Surrounded by dozens of locked-out fellow workers, and strikers from other workplaces across the country, he strode across the floor of the convention to the podium, and began to recite the words to the old union anthem, Solidarity Forever.

"When the union's inspiration...through the workers' blood shall run," he intoned in the gravelly voice of a midwest preacher, "there shall be no power greater...anywhere beneath the sun." The huge hall fell silent as a thousand delegates strained to hear his quiet intensity. "For what force on earth is weaker...than the feeble strength of one." Almost whispering: "But the union...makes us...strong." Then, in a voice as though it held the strength of all those thousand delegates, he shouted out: "Brothers and sisters, Solidarity!" and the hall leapt to its feet in cheers.

It was a defining moment for the historic change which took place at the New York convention. Solidarity is becoming the byword of the new AFL-CIO. The concept runs like a common thread through the program which Sweeney advocated during his campaign for the AFL-CIO presidency, and it successfully bound together a wide spectrum of unions on his behalf. But while Lane's convention call for solidarity appealed for the AFL-CIO to support its own members, the era of the global economy poses an even deeper question. Will his call for solidarity cross borders? Will a new AFL-CIO leadership help bring together the unionists of the world, to face together their common multinational employers?

From the time that the AFL merged with the CIO in 1955, past AFL-CIO presidents Kirkland and Meany fought against the old labor traditions of solidarity among rank-and-file workers, and denied that a working class even existed in the U.S. Instead, they brought U.S. labor into support for cold war foreign policies, redbaiting those who opposed it, and often pitting the interests of U.S. workers against the struggles of workers abroad.

Today, advocates of a solidarity-based movement seek to redefine the old traditions in a world in which corporations have declared class war on U.S. workers, where the domestic workforce is racially, nationally and sexually more diverse than anytime in its history, and in which U.S. workers are linked to those in other countries by the ties of the global economy.

The struggle between these two points of view shaped the convention, and the contest over the leadership of the AFL-CIO.

Opening the gathering, Tom Donahue, the interim AFL-CIO president whom Sweeney defeated, tried to convince delegates that the federation was really a narrow "trade union movement." He attacked his opponents for supporting a "labor movement," or "social movement," one which would move away from Washington and into the streets, organizing and speaking for immigrants and low-wage workers, in unions and out of them.

Donahue's vision of the past seemed irrelevant to delegates like Stewart Acuff, head of Atlanta's labor council. Over the last decade, national formations like Jobs with Justice have brought together union activists in campaigns which he says were designed to nurture a "culture of militancy," and to encourage coalitions with organizations of poor people, minorities, and environmentalists. Acuff himself organized sit-ins and civil disobedience at House Speaker Newt Gingrich's office earlier this year, challenging the AFL-CIO's traditional approach to lobbying.

Donahue called on delegates to "build bridges, not block them," a slap at Sweeney's union, the Service Employees. The organizing tactics of the union's showpiece campaign, Justice for Janitors, bring low-wage and minority workers into the streets, blocking thoroughfares and getting arrested.

Donahue tried to label his opponents as advocates of civil disobedience, in much the same way his predecessors redbaited the opposition of the past. Militancy, he said, "marginalizes" the labor movement. Debating him on the floor of the convention, Sweeney advocated a new commitment to use direct action tactics where necessary to organize workers on a much larger scale. In the end, most AFL-CIO delegates saw Donahue's vision as the source of labor's marginalization, not the solution to it, and elected Sweeney instead.

In many ways, the Sweeney program for change is more limited than the movement which propelled it into office. It seeks to solve most problems by hiring staff, and organizing committees and taskforces within the AFL-CIO structure, in a strategy called by one supporter "revolution from above." Sweeney and his supporters still inherit the mental framework which sees organizing drives primarily as the product of paid staff, rather than as an upsurge among workers themselves. But that framework will be challenged, and perhaps changed, in the course of the large-scale campaigns he proposes.

Under pressure from the competition between two slates of candidates, the convention took a startlingly different course from those of the past on issues of diversity. In previous years, it was difficult to challenge the fact that the federation was led almost exclusively by white men. This year, diversity in leadership was debated on the floor, and supported by every speaker. The slates competed in trying to demonstrate a commitment to changing the color and sex of union leadership.

In the end, a new, expanded, executive council was elected, in which 14 of 51 members are women and people of color. Linda Chavez-Thompson, a vice-president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, was chosen unanimously for a new executive vice-president position in the AFL-CIO. This leadership still doesn't reflect the U.S. workforce, especially on the bottom, but the convention took a big step in that direction.

Strikers from Decatur to Detroit will also benefit from Sweeney's election, and his commitment to fight harder against corporations. Donohue and his predecessors, in contrast, were architects and advocates for labor-management cooperation. Many delegates were clearly moved by the recent million man march in Washington, and compared it to the solidarity day mobilizations at the beginning of the Reagan era. They talked about calling a similar national march, but focussing it on the picketlines of national strikes instead of inside the Washington beltway.

A change in direction is more in question, however, in the area of labor's international policy. This is now perhaps the most important, long-range issue affecting the survival of unions in the U.S. as they face the global economy.

At the AFL-CIO's convention two years ago in San Francisco, held just prior to the South African elections and during the debate over NAFTA, international relations were a burning issue. Unionists across the country predicted NAFTA would cause a massive loss of jobs, the fracturing of the Mexican economy, environmental degradation, and systematic violations of workers' rights in the wake of its passage. All of those predictions have come to pass with a vengeance.

From January 1, 1994 to July 1, 1995, over 70,000 workers claimed extended unemployment benefits because their jobs had been eliminated by NAFTA. The Department of Labor certified half of those claims. Virtually every authority outside the Clinton administration believes the figures are a gross undercount of the actual number of jobs lost. Additional thousands of jobs have been relocated to free trade zones and maquiladora factories in the Caribbean, Central America, and southeast Asia.

Nevertheless, there was no mention of NAFTA or free trade on this year's convention agenda, set by Donahue. Both he and Sweeney warmly greeted President Clinton on the opening day, whose speech linked fair trade and free trade as though they were two sides of the same coin, rather than opposites. He didn't mention NAFTA by name.

Labor Secretary Robert Reich also avoided the issue in his speech to the delegates. He claimed in a press conference outside the hall that NAFTA created 140,000 jobs in 1994, and would create thousands more as soon as the Mexican economy got over the shock of devaluation. He left before anyone could press for details supporting his assertion that jobs were created in numbers vastly greater than even those claimed by NAFTA%USA, the treaty's corporate backers.

Nevertheless, in numerous statements Sweeney has made it clear that the AFL- CIO will continue to support the Democratic Party and Clinton in the 1996 election.

Instead of discussing NAFTA, the presentation of foreign policy at the convention was like a death-rattle of the cold war. Chinese dissident Harry Wu, a fellow at the ultra-conservative and anti-union Hoover Institution, who was nevertheless billed as a trade unionist, was the featured speaker. He called Chinese prison camps the most extensive in the world, a system "run by the Chinese government and its Communist Party." Condemning all trade with China, he called the current strike against Boeing aircraft company in Seattle, which has relocated some production to China among other countries, "a strike against the Chinese government...against the Chinese military...[and] against all those in America who would lead China to undermine American policy."

Wu's visit was organized by the AFL-CIO's International Affairs Department, which he credited with organizing the campaign to secure his release. His speech papered over, with cold war rhetoric reminescent of past decades, the IAD's failure to oppose free trade policies which have cost thousands of jobs. While some job loss to China has occurred, the overwhelming majority of jobs have fled to Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America and Southeast Asia. In the under-industrialized countries of these regions, the international department has cooperated with U.S. government agencies in building export processing zones for U.S. manufacturers, and assuring a favorable investment climate for multinational corporations.

The International Affairs Department was set up when the cold war started after World War Two, and was originally funded by the Cental Intelligence Agency. After the Church Committee hearings in the mid-1970s exposed CIA abuses, and its links to the AFL-CIO, the IAD's funding was transferred to the U.S. Agency for International Development, and later also the National Endowment for Democracy.

About $40 million annually in government money is channeled through its quasi-independent institutes, including the notorious American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD), which runs USAID and NED programs in Latin America, the Free Trade Union Institute (FTUI) which runs them in Eastern Europe, and similar bodies for Asia and Africa. These programs, under the cover of "advocating democracy," fund and support political parties and unions friendly towards U.S. foreign policy and U.S. corporate investment.

AIFLD's director, William Doherty, for instance, boasts of his role in helping topple the progressive government of Joao Goulart in Brazil in 1964. In 1973 he helped bring down Chile's Salvador Allende, turning the country over to fascist dictator Augusto Pinochet, who broke the back of Chile's labor movement. In 1966 Doherty declared that "the key question of our time is the future road of their [Latin American] revolution: toward Communist totalitarianism or toward democracy. For the American labor movement this is one of the paramount, pivotal issues; all other questions...must remain secondary."

Using this logic, the international department attacked unions and political parties which opposed U.S. domination, and which sought deeper social changes, calling them radical and Communist. But as U.S. foreign investment has led to the loss of jobs at home, U.S. unions have begun looking abroad for counterparts interested in confronting U.S. corporations, rather than cooperating with them. The IAD's chickens are coming home to roost.

Sweeney's running mate, who was elected AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer, is Richard Trumka, head of the United Mine Workers. Trumka's union has a long track record of assisting unions in South Africa and elsewhere. In the new Sweeney administration, Trumka will be in charge of departments planning broad strategic campaigns against companies where workers are on strike or fighting to save their jobs. That will probably include responsibility for international affairs as well.

Trumka sees "an absolute need for a change in [AFL-CIO] foreign policy," which he accuses of being geared towards the cold war. "But the cold war has come and the cold war has gone," he declares. "It is over with. What we want is to be able to confront multinationals as multinationals ourselves. If a corporation does business in 15 countries, we'd like to be able to confront them as labor in 15 different countries. It's not that we need less international involvement. But international involvement should be focussed towards building solidarity on both sides of the border you're talking about, helping workers achieve their needs and their goals back here at home."

Trumka is not the only voice calling for uniting unions in different countries in joint bargaining with their common employers. Cross-border organizing, especially between U.S. and Mexican labor, has become one of the most widely-discussed issues in the labor movement in the wake of NAFTA.

In one of the convention's hottest moments, Jack Henning, executive secretary- treasurer of the California Labor Federation, took to the floor after Wu's speech. He pointed out that the real source of U.S. job loss was the development of maquiladoras on the Mexico/U.S. border, and free trade policies typified by what he called "the Democratic Party's NAFTA." Existing international union bodies supported by the AFL-CIO, he said, are worthless. Instead, he called for the creation of a global unionism, with real enforcement powers to prevent multinational corporations from pitting workers in different countries against each other, in a competition to win jobs by lowering wages.

Henning's comments so enraged Donahue that when his time ran out, Donahue abruptly cut off his microphone. After an outcry forced him to grant an additional 30 seconds, Henning boomed across the hall: "Tom, I just want to tell you that if you want to save this nation, and save your own soul, you'll get behind global unionism." Cleaning house in the International Affairs Department will be very complicated, however, and require a lot of political will. If the AFL-CIO applies for USAID and NED grants for programs which oppose U.S. foreign and free trade policies, and seek to build up union resistance to U.S. corporations abroad, they're not likely to be funded. If the IAD loses its funding, many high-level bureaucrats, well-connected to the administration and the Democratic and Republican Parties, will lose their jobs. One can imagine a call from Clinton to Sweeney, asking him why he's embarassing the president he's suppossedly trying to elect, opposing his policies and firing his friends.

In addition, Trumka's program for greater international cooperation, if it's not funded by the government, will have to be funded by members' dues. At present, almost none of the IAD's money comes from AFL-CIO members. Real international solidarity campaigns would have to compete for funding with organizing drives and strategic support for strikes, both of which Sweeney has pledged to increase. But accepting USAID money for pro-free trade programs cooperating with multinational corporations, while running campaigns to enlist the cooperation of foreign unions in opposing those same corporations, is a course fraught with contradictions.

Despite the anticipated problems, however, this is the greatest opportunity to change the AFL-CIO's international direction since World War Two. Henning is hopeful that it can be done. "I think that as a result of the departure of Kirkland, we'll have a more progressive approach," he says. "We were associated with some of the very worst elements...all in the name of anti-communism. But I think there's an opportunity to review our foreign activities. The basic thing is that we would stop the cannibalism, the global competition for jobs among the trade unions of the world."

As Dan Lane points out, what's needed is solidarity, "for the union makes us strong."

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