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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 protections.

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 generations.

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 resources.

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 "freedom ride".

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.

Reggie Moore
President, on behalf of AFSCME Local 444

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