Not *this* AFL-CIO's Freedom Ride
September 18, 2003
Dear Brother Sweeney:
On August 21, 2003, AFSCME Local 444 received a guest speaker from
the AFL-CIO. This brother made an appeal to our local that we support
the "Freedom Ride" for the rights of undocumented immigrant
workers. After considerable debate we voted not to make a donation. Our
reasons had nothing to do with any reluctance to support the rights
and interests of these workers.
We understand that the substandard rights and wages of undocumented
workers is used to drive down the wages of all workers here in the US. If
they are prevented from coming here, this means an even
larger pool of cheap labor in those countries and even more companies
leaving here to take advantage of that situation. We also understand the
hardship and suffering these brothers and sisters must feel,
being unable to return home to visit their families and friends
there, for fear of being unable to return back to this country.
However, we are very skeptical of what this "Freedom Ride"
is really all about. The original Freedom Rides were part of a mass
mobilization of hundreds of thousands of young people and
others to fight against a vicious racism in the South. They openly
defied the law and they had no real support from the Democrats or Republicans.
We must say that the present "Freedom Ride" does not do justice to
that name or the heritage of that struggle.
We are profoundly critical of the refusal of the AFL-CIO to seriously
mobilize any sector of its membership to fight against the attacks American
workers have faced in recent years. The results are there for all to see.
While productivity has grown by 66% over the last 30 years, the average
wage has grown by 7%. In their never-ending drive to maximize profits, the
corporations break the law at every turn. So do the politicians. Yet the
AFL-CIO slavishly obeys every union-busting judge and anti-labor law, and
the result is lower wages, fewer decent jobs and weaker unions year after year.
The AFL-CIO and the heads of its affiliated unions have refused to
mobilize their members,and their surrounding communities,to fight for higher
wages and better conditions on the job. Instead they pressure their members to
accept one cut back after another. Politically, they insist that labor must
remain as the spear carrier for the Democratic Party. As far as increasing
the competition between workers here and abroad for who will work
cheapest ("globalization" and "free trade" it's called),there is no difference
between the Democrats and the Republicans.
This policy of the leadership of the AFL-CIO and its affiliated
unions has failed miserably. AFSCME Local 444 represents blue collar
workers in the local water district, EBMUD. We have fewer workers doing more
work and each contract negotiations it becomes more
difficult to maintain our benefits, wages and contractual
Our members are forced to live further and further from their jobs
because they cannot afford to buy homes closer in. Their children face an
underfunded public education system that is failing them as a result. Once they
graduate, they face an increasingly uncertain
future. We all face an environment that is being wrecked by the
corporations and is destroying our health and that of future
Your failure to lead a real fight for a better life for all workers
in this country - and internationally - is demoralizing and also
leads to divisiveness. In the absence of such a broader fight,
millions of workers see the idea of full citizenship for undocumented
immigrant workers as more people fighting for fewer jobs and
We know that the AFL-CIO leadership claims that they merely follow
the policies of the affiliated unions. This is misleading. The
International leadership of the affiliated unions collaborate
together to maintain "labor peace", meaning lower wages and
worse conditions. The leadership of the AFL-CIO (from the national
level on down to the various central labor councils) does everything
in its power to help the leadership of its affiliates keep its membership in line.
We look forward to the day that the labor movement, or some section
of it, joins with the present youth movement as well as community
groups and fights for what working people, citizen and immigrant
alike need; guaranteed jobs with a $15 per hour minimum wage free,
nationalized health care, affordable housing, a healthy environment,
good schools, full rights in the workplace for all.
To win such demands, organized labor must do two things:
1)Organize a mass mobilization starting in the work places and
working class communities. This mobilization would do true justice to
the images of the civil rights movement, as opposed to your present
2) Break with the Democrats and run candidates who represent working
class and poor people, as a step towards building a mass workers' party in
the United States.
When the AFL-CIO takes this path, we would be happy to make a
sizeable donation and fight towards these goals.
President, on behalf of AFSCME Local 444