Dan Gallin’s Solidarity: A Review

by Paul Garver

gallinbookcover225Dan Gallin’s career as a socialist and union activist now spans more than six decades.   Child of an exiled Romanian diplomat, he was recruited to “Third Camp” Socialism (Socialist Youth League/International Socialist League) as a college student at the University of Kansas in the early 1950’s.  Forced to leave the USA for his political activities, he rejoined his family in Switzerland where he became a Swiss citizen and a member of the Swiss Socialist Party.  Opting to labor in the international workers’ movement rather than the socialist political movement, he joined the staff of the International Union of Food Workers (IUF), which he served as General Secretary from 1968 to 1997.

Solidarity is a collection of 19 of Dan Gallin’s essays, including  two autobiographical articles, three pieces from the late 1950s and early 1960s, one from his tenure as IUF General Secretary, and the  remainder from the last twelve years.  Dan Gallin’s interview by Eric Lee of LabourStart can serve as an introduction to the book.

The three early essays concern the Algerian Revolution, the French Left and Victor Serge.  For me these were less revealing than the long autobiographical essay in which Gallin relates his trajectory from Third Camp socialist intellectual to General Secretary of the IUF.  Socialism meant above all the promotion and defense of the integrity and independence of the movement of the organized working class {i.e., the trade union movement].  This entailed a stubborn and principled battle against all authoritarian deformations of that movement, whether bureaucratic, capitalist or Stalinist.

In his capacity as the general secretary of the IUF. Gallin worked to transform the IUF from a mere letter drop office/ contact point into a more effective combat organization of the working class in the fight against global corporate domination.  This was no easy task.  Like the other global union federations, the IUF is essentially a federation of national unions, large and small, strong and weak, many under  bureaucratic or complacent leadership.   By 1990 [when I joined the IUF staff] the IUF included  a core of social democratic/democratic socialist unions, but with every ideological tendency represented–Third World militants, Communists, Catholic and  bureaucratic conservative.  An association of unions like the IUF could achieve some level of “unity in action” only through a slow process of decision-making by leaders of national unions that the IUF itself did not choose.

As IUF General Secretary, Gallin worked tirelessly to persuade member unions to support a common program around a few crucial themes:   creating strong networks of unions within particular transnational companies to become strong enough to protect worker rights and advance workers’ interests, catalyze and support the growth of autonomous unions in developing countries and formerly Communist countries, and advancing the rights of women workers.   After Gallin resigned as General Secretary in 1997, his successor Ron Oswald continued to pursue those strategic directions and policies.   As a result, the IUF coordinates effective global union networks within several major global companies in the food and drink sectors, encouraging the development of new union federations around the globe, and including in its membership informal and domestic workers’ unions led by women.

Retirement from the IUF freed Dan Gallin from the inevitable burdens of administering an under-resourced but ambitious organization.  Free to write and speak on his own behalf  as a theorist of the global labor movement, Gallin continues to write critically about the international labor movement itself, its history and ideological struggles and his own often combative stance on  key issues.  Most of the essays in this collection date from this later period.

His essays and speeches focus  on key concerns that were not being addressed by the official labor movements – workers education, workers in the informal economy and domestic workers.  He critically assesses global labor developments such as the negotiation of framework agreements between global unions and transnational corporations.  Another essay scathingly dismisses  a book authored by Andy Stern.

Building upon the IUF’s work in supporting unions in developing countries, Gallin has paid special attention to assisting fledgling union activists in the formerly Communist countries.  He has become a mentor to a new generation of trade union activists through his work with the Global Labor Institute, which he chairs and co-founded, and though his advocacy of the inclusion of informal sector and domestic workers and their unions as critical parts of the labor movement. Dan embodies the enduring value of a lifetime commitment by a democratic socialist to the struggle for a better future.

Although I worked for and learned from Dan Gallin for nearly a decade, I have learned a great deal new and fresh from this collection of essays, and am thankful to Eric Lee and LabourStart for producing it.

Order the book on line at http://www.labourstart.org/solidarity/


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