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News ::
AFL-CIO Backs Bush
12 Nov 2001
Modified: 26 Nov 2001
Unionized labor and the groups that are formed to protect it have been forced to regroup, refocus, and most importantly revise their initiatives in order to successfully weather the new political climate that has blanketed us as a result of the terrorist attacks.
Since the catastrophes of September 11, 2001, significant changes have trickled down through the veins of our society’s infrastructure. Unionized labor and the groups that are formed to protect it have been forced to regroup, refocus, and most importantly revise their initiatives in order to successfully weather the new political climate that has blanketed us as a result of the terrorist attacks.

Russ Davis, of Jobs with Justice, a coalition of many labor groups, describes globalization work and immigration rights work as the two areas of interest that now require most of the labor movement’s attention. He anticipates that policy-makers will push for stricter immigration laws in order to satisfy the frightened public’s desire to root out any more terrorists. “Immigrant workers’ rights work will suffer,” he says, referring specifically to the AFL-CIO’s work on legalizing U.S. immigrant workers. Unionized labor groups have traditionally used highly organized public demonstrations as a means to gather support and recognition for their agendas. Davis says that for now, labor groups have been quieted, but their efforts to make people more aware of global poverty may be thriving as a result of mass media coverage of the poverty of Afghanistan. “Street protest stuff isn’t going on as much anymore, but people may become more aware of the poverty issues that in some ways are the roots of the problems we have with foreign relations.”

The labor movement is probably most likely to concentrate its efforts on “raising awareness” for now. The AFL-CIO, along with other grassroots-organizing groups such as Friends of the Earth, Oxfam International, and the Mobilization for Global Justice, canceled their Global Justice Week activities which were scheduled for September 29-30, nearly two weeks after the attacks. Some of the activities planned for Global Justice Week were a bus tour, and public demonstrations against what they see as the World Bank’s and International Monetary Fund’s inflated interest in multinational corporations and stultifying lack of interest in public needs and services and environmental protection. In a press release, John Sweeney, the president of the AFL-CIO, cited inappropriate timing as the reason for canceling the activities. Sweeney also called on the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the two groups which the AFL-CIO have been trying to reform, to also cancel their meetings, stating “this is a time for pause and profound reflection, not another round of closed-door meetings behind tall fences.”

Along with their Global Justice Week activities, the AFL-CIO had also been planning for and involved in a feverish attempt to help legalize immigrant workers in the United States. The AFL-CIO had given a press conference on Capitol Hill addressing this issue a week before the attacks. Now, the AFL-CIO has found itself concentrating on addressing mere tolerance issues. In a press release issued three days after the attack, Sweeney expressed regret at the “numerous reports across our country of attacks on innocent Arab Americans, Muslim Americans, and South Asian Americans—attacks that are inconsistent with the fundamental ideals of our society”. He stated further that the AFL-CIO “join[s] with the President…in calling upon all Americans to renew their commitment to tolerance and compassion for their neighbors at this most difficult time”.

This was not the only recent instance in which Sweeney, who had been actively opposing President Bush on Fast Track trading legislation, concurred with the President. In another statement released after the day of the attacks, Sweeney states that he “called the White House to express [the AFL-CIO’s] full support for the President and for whatever actions he must take in this time of national crisis”.

Although it may seem that the AFL-CIO and other grassroots-organizing groups are now abruptly changing their relationship with President Bush to a more favorable one, Davis warned against such simplicity, and explained that the relationship is much more complicated. He noted that labor groups like the AFL-CIO have not given up their watchdog duties at all, and are still pursuing their original goals. He directed attention to the statement released by the AFL-CIO that expressed uneasiness with what they found to be “opportunistic attempts of some in Washington, D.C. to use the tragedies as rationale for pursuing fast track legislation”.

Davis told the IMC that “the reality of the [AFL-CIO’s] opinions are that they reflect the members’ opinions—which support war”. He said that not every group will find the same answer to the challenges they now face for the simple reason that the groups within the AFL-CIO and within Jobs with Justice are made up of people with varied shades of opinions. Personally, he said he has been against war since Vietnam,” but feels that with this war, “it is a lot more difficult” to argue against pursuing military action. He said “people are scared for their lives” right now, and that he believed that the attackers were “trying to provoke us into war” and that “if we were to do nothing, they would keep provoking us” until they elicited a strong enough response from us.

Davis explained that “fundamentally, the government is the same government it was on September 10th—a government that is working towards the interests of the wealthy few”. The first bridge Jobs with Justice will need to build, they say, will be one of “tolerance and resistance against hatred”.
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Thank you for this timely article
15 Nov 2001
In this time of crisis, the AFL-CIO has its back against the wall. Many of its members perished in the World Trade Center collapse, and thousands more members have worked tirelessly on the disaster site, sifting through the rubble, looking for their brothers and sisters. In the days following, the enormous job losses ran into the hundreds of thousands, a disproportionate amount being unionized and immigrant workers.

In the light of this great tragedy, the Boston Global Action Network has tried to keep the "Seattle" coalition together with labor firmly planted in the global justice movement. Even though many of its key activists have been doing a lot of grunt work in the United for Justice with Peace coalition, the network itself has not come to a consensus on the war, opting to work on strengthening strong relations with labor, while contributing what it could to other activist and humanitarian endeavors.

Part of this ongoing movement building effort was the WTO press conference on November 8, the Community Forum on Global Labor Solidarity led by Elaine Bernard on the 13th, and the end of the month Seattle commemorations which are being planned.

The WTO press conference, although short and barely covered by the mainstream media, was important to reassert the strong bonds of solidarity between labor and other activists. Just to have union officials and global justice folks together again, was a welcome sign. Elaine Bernard (Director of Harvard's Trade Union Program) gave an impassioned talk about the need for labor not to hunker down, but to push forward and fight for the public sector and democracy.

Only by keeping this dialogue going, can the movement go forward and not contract and become marginal. It'll take a lot of vision, courage, and compromise, but we can do it.
The AFL-CIO has NOT ceased to protest the WTO
23 Nov 2001
I don't know who wrote the text for the front page--probably not the author of this article. But that text said that the AFL-CIO was no longer protesting the WTO. That is simply not true--during the WTO meetings in Qatar, the AFL put out a strong statement of protest, and I believe that it supported an ACT-UP march on drug pricing in DC shortly before the WTO. Here, as Ceti has pointed out, the AFL-CIO took part in the JwJ- and BGAN-organized press conference at the State House just before the ministerial began. I certainly have a lot of complaints with the AFL-CIO, but the blanket statement on the front page is a pretty glaring inaccuracy.
Progress on the front page
24 Nov 2001
When I wrote my above comments, the text linking to this article in the center column of the Boston IMC front page was "The AFL-CIO has ceased to protest the World Trade Organization and World Bank." I'm now glad to see, on Saturday the 24th, that that has been changed--I think that it speaks well of the IMC and its admirable commitment to accuracy At the same time, I'm still troubled by the later quote that the AFL-CIO would offer “full support for the President and whatever actions he must take in this time of national crisis.”

There's no context provided for when this quote was made (or who made it--the AFL as a whole? John Sweeney?). But I would imagine that it was made soon after September 11, becuase the AFL has been fighting mightily against some of Bush's initiatives in the wake of the attacks. If you visit their website at, you will see that they're actively campaigning against the Bush administration's econoimc "recovery" package, which is made up largely of tax breaks to corporations. They are also very actively mobilizing against Fast Track trade authority for the President. If Bush get's Fast Track, it will be far easier for the administration to negotiate trade deals like the FTAA. This is likely to be a very close vote within the next few weeks, and its results are likely to have a major impact on "free" trade in the coming years. The AFL-CIO is clearly not offering "full support for the President" here.

There are plenty of criticisms of the AFL-CIO. But I'm concerned that the IMC is only giving part of the story here. As the IMC has many readers who aren't very much in touch with organized labor, it's really crucial that the IMC be accurate and complete in its reporting on labor. I fear that coalitions could be fractured over this war anyway, and we don't need incomplete reporting to exacerbate that.
24 Nov 2001
This article was written during the weeks after 9.11 and is accurate in that context. The particular quote "offers its full support" etc.., was an official statement given by AFL-CIO as an organization. As far as I know, the group has not officially retracted this statement. However, its more recent actions regarding the Fast Track powers, the economic bailout, and the WTO meetings have suggested that the group has become more outwardly adversarial again. This article, it should be noted, was posted during the Qatar meetings and written well before them. If anyone has any news regarding AFL-CIO activity in regards to the WTO, please post it. That's what the newswire is for, after all.
Context Was Provided
26 Nov 2001
There is, indeed, context provided in the article for the phrase "full support for the President and whatever actions he must take in this time of national crisis". In the article the phrase occurs in the sentence "in a statement released the day after the attacks, Sweeney states that he 'called the White House to express [the AFL-CIO's] full support for the President and for whatever actions he must take in this time of national crisis'. The answers to the questions when the statement was made and who made the statement, then, are, the day after the attacks, and Sweeney, personally, on behalf of the AFL-CIO.

There is an ambiguity that is inherent in this statement of support but it does not lie in the specifics of who and when, those are all given, it lies in the intent of the statement, and in a larger sense, in the problem of representing the opinions of many with some degree of accuracy (which is addressed later in the article with a statement by Russ Davis) It would, of course, be irresponsible to assume that when Sweeney says he expresses the AFL-CIO's "full support for the President and for whatever actions he must take in this time of national crisis" that the offer of support is extended to situations not directly related to the destructive events that took place on September 11th; to situations involved with, for example, the Fast Track negotiations. The article attempts to guard against such irresponsible assumptions by including Russ Davis'warnings against them. It is explained in the article via the sentiments of Davis that the AFL-CIO "has not given up [its] watchdog duties at all, and [is] still pursuing [its] original goals," which includes, (also given in the article), its pursuit of reforming the World Bank and International Monetary Fund's practices, legalizing immigrant workers, and any and all of the goals the AFL-CIO strives to accomplish. As for the problem of Sweeney speaking on behalf of the AFL-CIO, which is, in effect, an act of speaking on behalf of an amalgamation of many groups, we should hope that he is speaking on behalf of a mandate. But why should we question whether anyone as a part of the labor movement or even as a part of society would be unwilling to help with the horrible situations caused by the attacks?