Building Global Labor Solidarity: A Review

by Paul Garver

 

scipes book

Building Global Labor Solidarity in a Time of Accelerating Globalization.  Edited by Kim Scipes. Haymarket Books, 2016.

I do not have any good reason for taking so long to review this valuable book.  I picked it up only at the recent Labor Notes Conference after discussing it with Scipes there.  Did I arrogantly believe think that after decades as a global labor activist that I had nothing new to learn?  This collection of essays proves me wrong.

I have been acquainted with Kim Scipes since I invited him to join a mini-conference on international labor at the Blue Mountain Center in 1988.   Once a US Marine, he became a sociologist and an activist in teachers’ and writers’ unions.  Scipes was then, and remains, a tireless critic of the AFL-CIO’s international policies, writing numerous books and articles on the topic

Thirty years ago, I fully agreed with Scipes that the AFL-CIO’s international policy was unambiguously nefarious in its intentions and consequences of workers around the world.  Under the strongly anti-Communist presidents George Meany and Lane Kirkland, the AFL-CIO turned over its field operations in its regional institutes mostly to members of the Social Democrats USA, a smallish sect stemming from the pro Vietnam War wing of the former Socialist Party.  While paying verbal obeisance to free and democratic trade unionism, operatives of the AFL-CIO’S government-funded regional institutes tried to build pro-US union federations and from time to time supported right-wing coups and US military and political interventions.

In the 1980s my SEIU local leadership supported my involvement in union solidarity missions to Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala.  At the SEIU convention in Toronto in 1988, I helped organize a large group of local delegates that successfully put forth and negotiated a composite resolution on SEIU’s international policy that effectively replaced adherence to U.S. imperial policies with an emphasis on pragmatic solidarity with all global workers based on mutual interests in the globalized economy.  Both the then SEIU President John Sweeney and the Left bloc of delegates asked me to introduce the report from the convention resolutions committee which had negotiated agreement on the new language, which following seconding speeches from both reformers and administration loyalists, was unanimously adopted by the Convention delegates.

A convention resolution does not immediately change union policy, and in any event international labor solidarity has never been high on SEIU’s list of priorities.  But when John Sweeney became president of the AFL-CIO (following a contest with his former mentor AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Tom Donahue who shared Lane Kirkland’s Cold War views), he allowed a slow evolution of the Federation’s policies towards pragmatic support for more autonomous and even militant labor movements overseas.   The former regional groups that had promoted political anti-Communism were abolished in 1997, to be replaced by the American Center for International Labor Solidarity [“Solidarity Center”].  While still dependent on U.S. government funding, the Solidarity Center has developed credible programs to encourage independent union-building in several countries, ranging from Bangladesh and Cambodia through Haiti and the Dominican Republic to Egypt and Tunisia.

Thus the AFL-CIO followed the approach of long-standing union development agencies controlled by national union federations like those of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany, which made use of government funding to establish enduring partnerships with autonomous unions in developing countries.  The International Union of Food Workers (IUF), a global union federation for which I worked from 1990-2006, accepted well vetted project funding controlled by its affiliated unions in European countries, while remaining very reluctant to accept any funding from the USA, except for dues-based direct funding from affiliated American unions.  This was based upon very negative experiences that IUF affiliates had in the 1970s and 1980s with covert interference from AIFLD [American Institute for Free Labor Development] and other US regional labor institutes. However, this reluctance is slowly receding in recent years as experiences overseas unions have had with Solidarity Center programs have become generally positive.   Most staffers of the Solidarity Center both in Washington and in its numerous field programs throughout the world now are recruited for their pragmatic skills in union building and appear ideologically committed to working towards a solidaristic global labor movement.

Organizing at the global level with the IUF convinced me that it was necessary and possible to organize workers from all parts of the world into effective networks within specific global corporations (I worked on this task with the IUF on Coca-Cola, Nestle and other global food and drinks corporations).  This work is neither spectacular nor immediately effective, but in the long run lasting connections among workers based on mutual interests forged in face-to-face encounters do provide a counter-power to global capitalism.

The essays collected in this volume by Kim Scipes partially reflect this evolution.  Scipes himself remains very skeptical that the AFL-CIO has actually changed its spots in any consistent or persistent direction.  He cites both in this volume and in other writings, that the Solidarity Center in Venezuela supported a union whose leader briefly supported a coup against Hugo Chavez.   He also cites the 2013 AFL-CIO convention at which resolutions against imperialist wars were blocked from the chair.   His own conceptualization of global labor solidarity seems strongly rooted in an enduring belief that U.S. imperialism is by far the major obstacle to establishing global worker solidarity.  He argues consistently that its almost exclusive reliance on U.S. government funding compromises the Solidarity Center.  While he refers to the need to build global union and worker alliances against transnational capitalism and in specific global corporations and sectors, he does not feature it much in his own analysis.

In his essay “Building Global Solidarity Today: Learning from the KMU in the Philippines” Scipes presents what he considers to be a leading instance of a national union center (Kilusang Mayo Uno – May First Movement) practicing genuine trade unionism at home and abroad.  Scipes attended “International Solidarity Affairs” programs conducted by the KMU in 1988 and 2015, also conducting some field research in the Philippines.  I agree with Scipes that the KMU’s international efforts are commendable, but fear that in isolation such isolated efforts are insufficient to challenge capital at the global level.

To his credit, Scipes includes several superb essays by contributors who have fresh and compelling insights into major global labor issues that they elaborate in considerable detail.

Timothy Ryan has been Asia regional director of the Solidarity Center since 2001, after serving as a field representative in Sri Lanka and Indonesia.  His essay, “It Takes More than a Village” is a comprehensive analysis of how technical training in organizing and collective bargaining [assisted by the Solidarity Center field office] combined with external leverage through links with consumer organizations in Europe and North America over a long stretch of time enabled the beginnings of union organization among garment workers in Bangladesh, following the Rani Plaza building collapse and factory fires that killed so many workers.   Ryan’s essay exemplifies how global campaigns that actually empower rank-and-file workers can be built against tremendous political and economic opposition.  Scipes shows admirable generosity in including this essay by a key officer of an organization that he in principle disapproves.

Mike Zweig’s “Working for Global Justice in the New US Labor Movement” draws upon his own active involvement in US Labor against the War [USLAW] both to describe some new and tentative steps US unions have taken to oppose wars and support unionists in Iraq.  He favorably cites the reform of the Solidarity Center.  Where Scipes sees a glass mostly empty at the AFL-CIO, Zweig sees it as partially full.  However Zweig at the same time calling for a new culture of independent labor politics that would provide a more secure foundation for deep reform of the US labor movement.

David Bacon’s “Building a Culture of Solidarity across the US-Mexican Border” is based on his own extensive knowledge as a journalist and photographer working on both sides of the border.  He develops a convincing case that the most organic and powerful link between the progressive movements of Mexico and the United States consists in the Mexican workers and families who live and work in both countries.    Bacon cites the solidarity work of the United Steelworkers (USW) with the Mexican unions SME and ‘los Mineros”, which is based both on actions against common multinational employers, and on the community and family ties among workers.  [Ben Davis, first at the Solidarity Center in Mexico and later at the USW International Department, has facilitated this ongoing connection].

Finally for a fresh perspective I recommend Jenny Jungehülsing’s “Building Bridges Between the Labor Movement and Transnational Migration Research”, which draws out the potential for international solidarity based on ties among migrants.  Her case studies include the USW-Los Mineros relationship as well as the ongoing relationship between the Salvadoran members of the LA-based SEIU Service Workers West local and the FMLN in El Salvador.

In conclusion, if you have any interest in building global labor solidarity, buy and read this book.  It is currently available from Haymarket Books for $9.50 (PB plus e-book) or $5.00 (e-book only).

 

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Support the California U.C. Strike

DSAI’m sending this urgent alert from our Democratic Socialist Labor Commission. This strike is happening RIGHT NOW — read on to see how you can help. In solidarity,  Maria Svart  DSA National Director

This week, 53,000 workers at ten University of California (UC) campuses and five UC medical centers across California will strike. The DSLC stands in solidarity with them.

The State of California is the fifth largest economy in the world, and The University of California is the largest employer in the state, so UC negotiations will have a ripple effect, setting standards for workers’ wages and working conditions across California.

This is a historic strike with three unions participating: AFSCME, CNA, and UPTE. The Democratic Socialist Labor Commission supports UC worker militancy and encourages all DSA and YDSA members to support this strike. If you are in California, join the picket lines! If you can’t, share your photos and messages of support on social media.

The UC Regents — a board that includes wealth managers, financiers, and real estate investors — have been imposing a regime of austerity on California’s public higher-ed system for years, raising tuition and privatizing services while the state cuts taxes on billionaires. Now they are going full tilt against workers in the hopes that the forthcoming Janus decision will allow them to attack contracts at every level. The Regents are targeting workers’ retirement, healthcare, wages, and layoff protections. Meanwhile, the Regents are ignoring workers’ demands for sexual harassment protections, ban the box, and protection from ICE raids at work.

Many of the strikers are entry-level service workers (custodians, security guards, groundskeepers) represented by AFSCME 3299, and are disproportionately women, people of color, and immigrants. This strike is historic because workers in higher paid jobs in the UC system, such as nurses represented by CNA, are not allowing their workplaces to be divided and conquered — they are striking in solidarity with some of the lowest paid. Continue reading

Celebrating the Life and Work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

MLK
California Labor Federation

Many chapters in the story of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. are well-known to Americans. The I Have a Dream speech. The Nobel Peace Prize. The Mountaintop speech. His Letter from a Birmingham Jail. His commitment to nonviolence. All the incredible accomplishments of a visionary.

Our series on Martin Luther King Jr., to mark the 50th anniversary of his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968, covers some of the lesser known parts of his history. Follow the links below to discover more about this civil rights icon.

1. Jay Smith, United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals’ (UNAC/UHCP’s) counsel, who shared a story his mentor, Jerome A. “Buddy” Cooper, told about King’s Birmingham campaign.

2. King is perhaps best known for his iconic 1963 I Have a Dream speech. Less is known about predecessors to that speech, like the one King gave to the AFL-CIO in 1961.

3. King began with prepared remarks, the most famous part of the speech containing the theme ‘I Have a Dream’ was created on Aug. 23, 1963, as King addressed the crowd of more than 250,000 on the Mall in Washington, D.C.

4. King accepts the Nobel Peace Prize and then joins workers on strike in Atlanta to publicize their campaign during 10 days in December 1964.

5. International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 made King an honorary longshoreman in 1967. When King was assassinated, the ILWU showed they truly regarded him as one of their own.

6. Jerry Wurf, AFSCME’s president in 1968, was a strong and consistent supporter of King, as well as the civil rights movement in general.

This post originally appeared at UNAC-UHCP.

Me Too + Labor Unions

http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/20793/me-too-workers-women-unions-sexual-harassment-labor-movement-lessons

UFW- Please Support DACA & TPS

Join today’s national call in day to support the Dream Act,operation

Today, December 19th, is a national day of phone action to support the Dream Act and we are asking you to help flood your representative’s phone lines to demand that Congress pass a Clean Dream Act  and protect the 800,000 young lives that were left in limbo when President Trump rescind DACA. This is the only home most of these young people have ever known.
More than 11,000 young people have already lost their DACA protections and 122 young people lose their DACA status every day! We need to get Congress to pass a Dream Act before they go home in December!
The farm worker movement has stood by Dreamers time and time again in the fight for a clean Dream Act. UFW President Arturo Rodriguez got arrested supporting Dreamers in a massive demonstration earlier this month. In addition to countless delegations led by our farm worker movement, we have taken the lead in the San Joaquin Valley showing up at the doors of Congressman David Valadao’s offices in Hanford CA, Bakersfield CA  and Washington D.C. only to find his doors closed. Most recently, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the farm worker movement organized to dedicate national masses for Dreamers on the day of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
We will continue to be persistent and do all we can to ensure Congress acts and passes a clean Dream Act before the year ends. 
Here’s how to join in the national day of action phone campaign:
1. Dial 1-888-778-6856 and wait for the “Welcome” message.
2. Get connected to the switchboard.
3. Enter your zip code.
4. Wait for your call to be connected to your Representative or Senator and demand a #DreamActNow!
Below please find a sample script you can use to make your call:
Hi, my name is ____________ and I live in ___________ (city in district). I’m calling to urge you Congressperson/Senator ____________ to pass a clean Dream Act before you go home for the holidays. Every day that Congress fails to act, 122 Dreamers lose their DACA status and become deportable. Not taking action on the Dream Act is a vote to deport Dreamers. Please pass a clean Dream Act this December. Thank you for your time.

If you are on Twitter, join us in participating in a Twitterstorm today at 3PM EST/ 12 PM PST. Let’s join together and raise our voices in support for a #DreamActNow!
To make it easy, here is a sample tweet to send or you can just click below at 3 pm EST/12 pm pst: 

Continue reading

#SaveTPS: A Working-Class Struggle

by Jessica F. Chilin-Hernández

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Rally to Defend Dream Act and TPS on December 6, 2017 in Washington, D.C.. Image from DMV Sanctuary Network

By the time the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was announced in 2014, I had already benefited from another immigration relief program: Temporary Protected Status (TPS). In January and February 2001, my birth country of El Salvador experienced two earthquakes – a month apart from each other – that utterly devastated every aspect of life in Salvadoran Society. In order to help El Salvador reconstruct and get back on its feet, the United States extended TPS status to undocumented Salvadorans immigrants already in the U.S. I was one of them. Created by Congress in the Immigration Act of 1990, TPS was meant for people from countries going through environmental disaster and other extraordinary and temporary conditions or confronting armed conflict. Currently, the program is administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

In the past two months, TPS has come under attack from the Trump Administration. In November 2017, DHS terminated the program for Haiti, and four months later it extended that terrible decision to TPS-protected immigrants from Nicaragua and Honduras. Starting January 2019, an estimated 50,000 Haitians, 57,000 Hondurans, and 2,550 Nicaraguans with TPS status will become undocumented. They will be expected to leave the U.S. Furthermore, TPS was allowed to expire for three black-majority countries: Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone earlier this year. None of them were granted a renewal period as the DHS had done in previous years.

From a working-class perspective, terminating TPS would be catastrophic for workers and families. The Center for Migration Studies (CMS) has estimated that 81 to 88 percent of TPS-protected immigrants just from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti participate in the labor market – well above the rate for the total US population at 63 percent. Indeed, many TPS workers have been in the US for so long that they’re now homeowners and entrepreneurs, and so they are very invested in their local economies. For example, Salvadorans with TPS must have continuously resided in the U.S. since the designation date of March 9, 2001 – that’s more than a decade of working legally and paying taxes in the U.S. Furthermore, the Center for American Progress (CAP) calculates that the loss of TPS workers would cost employers $967 million in turnover and reduce America’s GDP by $164 billion over a decade. Of course, working people represent more than just economic contributions, but you’d think that reports like these would influence rational policymakers. But this administration operates with little regard to facts, policy briefs by experts, or peer-reviewed research. Instead, it responds to the worst instincts in our politics, even excusing and allying with white supremacy. This is not rational. It is shamelessly racist.

TPS is a racial and environmental justice issue. The program’s primary beneficiaries are Black, LatinX, Asian, and Middle Eastern. We come from Haiti, Syria, Nepal, Honduras, Yemen, Sierra Leone, El Salvador, Somalia, Guinea, South Sudan, Nicaragua, Liberia, and Sudan. All of these nations have historically been at the mercy of imperialist policies – by the U.S. and other countries — that pillage natural resources and do little to promote the well-being of residents, most of whom are people of color. For these countries, TPS was granted on account of either civil strife (usually the reason for Middle Eastern and African countries) and natural disasters (usually the reason for countries in Latin America and the Caribbean) thereby helping these countries rebuild what US Imperialism has destroyed. Thus, TPS is a form of humanitarian relief for civil war refugees and natural disaster victims that is also a form of reparations to formerly colonized working people of the world.

Similar to DACA, TPS beneficiaries like me receive provisional protection against deportation and permission to work in the United States for a limited period of time –no less than 6 months and no more than 18. In order to be eligible, immigrants from TPS-designated countries must be physically present in the U.S. on the date on which the program is designated for their nationality and must continue to reside in the U.S. In addition, the program does not grant permanent legal status in the United States, nor are TPS beneficiaries eligible to apply for permanent residence or for U.S. citizenship. In other words, working-class immigrants can be workers, but not residents let alone citizens.

My TPS work permit has provided me with many opportunities to pursue the American Dream by making it possible for me to join the workforce. It also allowed for me to file taxes – something that I’ve been doing since I was 17 years old. Since attaining full-time employment, I have been saving to purchase a home in Virginia for my mother. This is my greatest dream – the chance to honor my mother’s sacrifice by providing her with a home that she can call her own. Throughout my time living in the United States, I had never thought I’d be faced with the possibility of giving up this dream. Yet all of this changed on November 9, 2016. The morning after, I felt a fear unlike any I had felt before. The right side of my chest hurt, my stomach felt strange. I was hungry, but couldn’t bring myself to eat. I could just think of one thing: if Donald Trump’s DHS Secretary does not approve our renewals, then we’d potentially be forced to return El Salvador. As of today, I have 81 days left on my TPS work permit if the designation isn’t renewed by DHS.

Since the beginning of December, a number of actions have taken place in Capitol Hill to urge members of Congress to save TPS and pass a Clean Dream Act. The deadline for Congress to act is December 22 – the date Congress adjourns for the holidays. The urgency has escalated even more after Congress failed to include protections for immigrant youth in their spending bill fix. If Congress doesn’t act soon, then a number of Dreamers and TPS beneficiaries await deportation and an inhumane removal experience from US society.

As we have seen in recent years, more and more of our working-class brothers and sisters from the global south have had to flee civil war, genocide, economic exploitation, and the environmental effects of climate change – and that will almost certainly continue. Efforts have already begun to eliminate other venues for legal immigration, and the gradual termination of TPS is unlikely to be the end of the assault on immigrants under this Administration. If naturalized and documented allies do not step up to demand a comprehensive immigration reform that makes it easier for all workers, political asylees, climate change refugees, and persecuted people to pursue new beginnings in the United States, then we will forsake our responsibility to whose labor provided the capital to build the economies of developed nations.

Jessica F. Chilin-Hernández serves as Assistant Director of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University. She is originally from San Salvador, El Salvador.

This article is reposted with permission from Working Class Perspectives. https://workingclassstudies.wordpress.com/author/workingclassstudies/

Call For AFL-CIO to Open AIFLD Files

by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

For those people, in particular trade union activists who are following developments in our movement, you should be aware of the resolution passed recently by the Duluth (Minn) Labor Body AFL-CIO. The resolution calls on the AFL-CIO leadership and President Richard Trumka to allow the University of Maryland to open the AFL-CIO’s AIFLD archives.  AIFLD was an AFL-CIO department that was set up in the 1960’s in order to combat and suppress any labor organizations throughout the third world that rejected the pro-business US model. It is well documented that AIFLD, funded heavily by the US government, was infiltrated by the CIA and supported the pro-capitalist US foreign policy.

The UAW’s Victor Reuther was an outspoken critic of this referring to the AFL’s “cloak and dagger” operations and the “indiscriminate whitewashing of the obvious shortcomings in US foreign policy.”*  The CIA through AIFLD and backed by the extreme anti-communism of the cold war and AFL-CIO leadership under George Meany and then Lane Kirkland, resorted to all sorts of coercion and violence to undermine radical and democratic unionism.

Rob McKenzie, a former UAW local president and Ford worker wrote the resolution which reads as follows:

Whereas, workers in Ford Motor’s Mexico City Assembly Plant were involved in a series of labor disputes in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s resisting efforts to bring their wages and benefits down to the level of the new plants on the U.S. border and demanding democratic elections in their union.  Many were kidnapped, beaten, shot and fired.  One died from wounds received in the plant.

Whereas, the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD), a now defunct arm of the AFL-CIO was reputedly involved in these events and the AFL-CIO has sent the old records from this group to the University of Maryland, the official repository for AFL-CIO records.

Whereas, the University of Maryland has requested permission for a year to open new AIFLD records and archive them for researchers and has not received approval from the National AFL-CIO to do so.

Therefore, be it resolved, That the National AFL-CIO take the action necessary to allow archivists at the University of Maryland to open new American Institute for Free Labor Development records. Continue reading