Report from the AFL-CIO Convention in Chicago, July 25-28, 2005
As one who has posted a number of items on Chicago Indy Media before and during the Convention about the struggle to pass the "Build Unity and Trust Among Workers Worldwide" resolution at the Convention, I thought I would post a final report of these efforts.
The bad news is that "Build Unity and Trust" was not discussed nor debated on the Convention floor. There was some good news, though, and I'll include it after my report. But first the report.
As you'll remember, the California State AFL-CIO passed a resolution, Build Unity and Trust, at their July 2004 State Convention. Build Unity and Trust focused on AFL-CIO foreign operations, demanding that the top-level AFL-CIO foreign policy leaders "clear the air" about these operations both historically and currently, and called for a "country-by-country" account of what they are doing around the world today. Build Unity and Trust also called for restrictions on accepting US Government money, allowing this money only to be sought and used where it would not compromise the integrity of US workers, and where it would not make them look like they were agents of the US Government nor agents of corporate globalization. Build Unity and Trust passed UNANIMOUSLY, and was sent to the National Offices of the AFL-CIO for consideration by the Resolutions Committee of the 2005 National Convention. (Build Unity and Trust is available on-line at www.labournet.net/world/0407/hirsch.html.)
In late Spring 2005, the Solidarity Center (SC) — the international wing of the AFL-CIO — developed its own resolution consciously intended, I believe, to undercut Build Unity and Trust. This was circulated to Executive Boards of State AFL-CIO Federations, seeking their support. This resolution only praised the work of the SC, failing to report the criticisms of their work (see my piece in the May 2005 issue in Monthly Review, which is on-line at www.monthlyreview.org/0505scipes.htm), criticisms of its relationship to the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) — see my July 10, 2005 piece on Z Net atwww.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?sectionID=19&itemID=8268 — and ignoring the criticisms that over 90% of their budget came from the US Government (see Harry Kelber at www.laboreducator.org/solcenter.htm). In short, it was a paen to the good work of the Solidarity Center.
On Sunday, July 24, 2005, the Latin American Solidarity Coalition and its Chicago affiliate, Organizing Group to Say No to the NED, held a demonstration at Navy Pier to try to force the Resolutions Committee to submit Build Unity and Trust on to the Convention floor. Between 80-90 people braved the 103 degree temperature at Navy Pier to support this effort, and then we held a very sprited march — despite the heat — over to Ogden Park, which sits just below the Sheraton Hotel, where jost of the delegates were staying.
Both Build Unity and Trust and the SC resolutions made it to the Resolutions Committee, where they were discussed. However, a new resolution, apparently from the AFL-CIO Executive Council, ended up being passed by the Committee, subsuming both of the earlier resolutions (in acuality, killing Build Unity and Trust). It was this new resolution that went to the floor of the AFL-CIO convention.
AFSCME President Gerald McEntee, Chair of the Resolutions Committee, chaired the session where the new resolution on the Solidarity Center was presented to the Convention. There were 8-9 people who rose to speak to the resolution. The first four or five — reports I've gotten have varied on the numbers, and I was not present inside the Convention — got up and spoke in support of the new resolution (i.e., AGAINST the position of Build Unity and Trust), and after they finished, McEntee called out from the Chair, "Did I hear someone call the question?" Someone jumped up, yelled, "I call the question!" and McEntee's gavel fell. And the resolution was passed by the Convention.
None of the speakers who wanted to speak against the new resolution--or FOR Build Unity and Trust — were allowed to speak.
So, the long and the short of it is that we were stuffed at the Convention.
The good news is — and I honestly believe there is good news — that this issue got out much farther and wider than it has ever before. Besides our committee members' passing out fliers and talking to many delegates personally, we were interviewed on a number of radio shows around the country. The highlight was when Fred Hirsch and I were interviewed live on DEMOCRACY NOW! by Amy Goodman. Democracy Now is broadcast to over 350 radio and community TV stations around the country, about half only having audio but half also having video. This report can be heard/seen/read at http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=05/07/26/1419259. (If you have DSL, check out the "watch 256k stream," as there are scenes of the attack on the presidential palace in Santiago on September 11, 1973 that play while Fred is talking about AFL-CIO involvement in laying the groundwork for the coup against Salvador Allende's democratically-elected government: it is very powerful video!)
And second, this effort was enough of a threat to the AFL-CIO foreign policy leaders that they had to obviously engage in anti-democratic behavior within their own organization to keep these issues from even being discussed on the floor of the Convention, much less allowing a full and honest debate on these issues. The AFL-CIO foreign policy leaders are afraid — and quite rightly — to have union members know what the foreign policy leaders have been doing behind union members' backs, but in their names. It is hard to explain why a movement that endlessly trumpets the need for solidarity among workers has a foreign policy program that is largely (not completely) designed to screw over workers around the world. And a Labor foreign policy of overwhelmingly supporting US foreign policy, that means they are extremely limited in how much they can fight for their own members when they are abused here at home (see http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/scipes190705.html).
And now, Labor Beat — Chicago's Labor TV show — has just announced its latest show, "The AFL-CIO's Foreign Policy and N.E.D. Money." Larry Duncan just sent the following announcement, and I encourage ALL who are interested to support the excellent work of Labor Beat and to purchase this informative video:
"The AFL-CIO's Foreign Policy and N.E.D. Money"
Prior to the AFL-CIO Convention in Chicago, rank-and-file workers held a protest and discussion about the need to reform the AFL-CIO's foreign policy and the influence upon it from funding from the National Endowment for Democracy. Hear Kim Scipes, Labor Educator on the AFL-CIO and international politics, discuss the history of the AFL's involvement with the foreign policy interest of American Imperialism. Also, an interview with Fred Hirsch, long-time critic of AFL-CIO foreign policy, as he and other opponents of N.E.D. funding attended the 2005 AFL-CIO Convention. Includes scenes of floor discussion on foreign policy resolution and reactions of supporters of "Build Unity and Trust Among Workers Worldwide" resolution, including Jeff Crosby, North Shore (Massachusetts) Central Labor Council and member of AFL-CIO Convention Resolutions Committee. Video is 29 min.
To order, specify title ("The AFL-CIO's Foreign Policy and N.E.D. Money" ) and send a $15 check, made out to Labor Beat:
37 S. Ashland
Chicago IL 60607
Indicate whether you want DVD or VHS.
In short, despite the incredible disrespect given the California AFL-CIO and its (before the Convention) 2.4 million members by the AFL-CIO foreign policy leaders, this struggle will continue. We want to force the AFL-CIO's Solidarity Center to break its connection with the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), and we want to transform the AFL-CIO foreign policy program into a force for genuine international labor solidarity. And we want the AFL-CIO (as well as the "Change to Win" Coalition) to become resolute fighters for working people both here in the United States and around the world!