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Report On AFL-CIO International Affairs Meeting

From: Fred Hirsch fredsam@cruzio.com
Date: Thu, 23 Oct 2003

Sisters and Brothers,

Please forgive the lateness of this brief preliminary report on the meeting dealing with AFL-CIO international affairs which took place recently in Oakland.  We hope to put together a much more detailed report very soon. That report will hopefully indicate ways to bring the activity of the AFL-CIO abroad into full transparency with an open and historically realistic approach toward an effective labor foreign policy that conforms to the needs of workers here and abroad.  This meeting was the first of its kind.  I believe it was a step toward forging a policy that genuinely and credibly reflects the needs of workers, generates the mutual solidarity so badly needed today in this global economy and does so with union resources, not with the largesse of a government that projects  and protects the avarice of Corporate America.

Your input is needed to compile a truly comprehensive report on this meeting, put together a working group on AFL-CIO foreign affairs and devise proposals for change.  To start, would you please send us a copy of the notes you took at the meeting, your analysis of the meaning of the meeting and your suggestions as to where we should go from here.  Hopefully you are preparing a report to your organization and members.  A copy of your report will be an important contribution to a comprehensive report.  This is the first time in decades that a labor movement group has come together to focus on these issues.  Letıs not let the process weıve begun end here.

For starters - On Tuesday, 10/14/ 03 the California Labor Federation (CLF) held a meeting with representatives of the International Affairs Department (IAD) and of the International Affairs Committee (IAC) of the AFL-CIO.

Some fifty people from many unions attended.   The meeting was Chaired by Art Pulaski,  CLF Executive Secretary Treasurer.  Our two guests from the AFL-CIO in Washington were  Bill Lucy, International Secretary  Treasurer of AFSCME, President of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) and Secretary  Treasurer of the International Affairs Committee of the AFL-CIO. Brother Lucy is also a member of the Executive Council of the Federation. We had expected to meet with Barbara Shailor, Director of the IAD, but Stan Gacek, Assistant Director, who joined us from Washington, D.C., explained that she had been called away for other duties by John Sweeney.

The meeting was called consequent to passage  of Resolution #20, ²Looking Ahead on AFL-CIO Policy Abroad² at  the CLF Convention on July 24, 2002. Resolution # 20 was drawn up by the Executive Council of the CLF as a substitute for  the resolution ³Itıs Time to Clear the Air About AFL-CIO Policy Abroad.²   In negotiating for consensus on Resolution #20, the backers of the ³Clear the Air ³ resolution were given to understand that, if the meeting with the AFL-CIO international affairs representatives failed to be satisfactory and productive toward the objectives of ³Clear the Air,² the officers of the CLF would come behind the Clear the Air resolution. That understanding was clearly stated in discussion on the convention floor prior to passage of Resolution #20.

The meeting lasted about three hours.  In order for our visitors from Washington to speak freely, the attendees agreed that the meeting would be an internal discussion of the issues.  Reports to our members would be welcome, but it was expected that there would be no direct quotes of Brothers Lucy and Gacek given to the non-labor media.

We who attended offered a wide range of questions and opinions regarding the IADıs negative past performance.  We had several pointed questions about recent activity in Venezuela and various other countries.  Our guests from Washington, while not denying a history which some described as a betrayal of the interests of working people, were reluctant to open the book on the past.   They did not give us, as requested, a country by country present accounting as to finances, policy and personnel.  They pointed out various positive programs in which they were involved, particularly in Brazil, Colombia and South Africa.  In general, they were knowledgable,  polite and smooth.   They stayed right on message that they were following what they describe as as a ³labor agenda² even though it is financed mainly through the government - at this point, the Bush administration.

The National Endowment for Democracy (NED,) the State Departmentıs Agency for International Development (AID) and the Department of Labor (DOL) were discussed as funding sources for the international work of the AFL-CIO. It was clear to many that although those agencies pay the bills, none of them are devoted to labor friendly policies, and the AFL-CIO is not a part of their decision making process.  Many of us find it difficult to believe that the enemies of working families here at home could possibly be the friends of workers abroad.

We did not even come close to having the main goals of the ³Clear the Air² resolution accepted by the emissaries from D.C.:

³BE IT RESOLVED, that, to advance the progressive new policies of the AFL-CIO in global affairs, we call upon our Federation to fully account for what was done in Chile and other countries where similar roles may have been played in our name, to renounce such policies and practices and to openly invite concerned union members and researchers to review and discuss all AFL-CIO archives on international labor affairs; and

³BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO describe, country by country, exactly what activities it may still be engaged in abroad with funds paid by government agencies and renounce any such ties that could compromise our authentic credibility and the trust of workers here and abroad and that would make us paid agents of government or of the forces of corporate economic globalization.²

As a result of the meeting, the IAC may advise the Executive Council that there is unrest in the ranks over present policy of burying the the past and continuing to finance AFL-CIO programs abroad with government funds. The IAD, however, has no chice but to follow the dictates of John Sweeney and the Executive  Council.  In our discussion,  Art Pulaski and others pointed out that one way to change the policies and behavior of the IAD is to bring these issues to the our international unions and get them to demand the changes we believe are needed.

Ed Asner, former president of the Screen Actorsı Guild, participated in the meeting and surprised our brothers from Washington with some cogent proposals.    According to my notes, he asked that the AFL-CIO
1- Establish a Truth Commission to examine our history that would be comprised of well known people and he named about seven.  They would hold hearings and compile a report to be presented to the whole labor movement within one year from its establishment.  South Africa and Chile established truth commissionıs to deal witsh their history.
2- Establish Immediate Financial and Organizational Transparency, with funds received and expended made public and activities engaged in by specific personnel, reported upon periodically to the whole labor movement.
3- Establish an International Solidarity Mobilization Department. The IAD should draw up a proposal to be considered at the next Convention of the AFL-CIO to transform itself into a department which mobilizes the support of workers in the United States for mutual solidarity with workers abroad. The new department should build a funding structure similar to COPE, drawing finances from within labor and eliminating current funding from government and any foundations tied to Corporate America.

He asked that a progress report on these issues be given by the IAD to the California  Labor Federation for consideration at its February, 2004 meeting.

Our guests from Washington did not seriously discuss Ed Asnerıs proposals. To bring such ideas into serious consideration will take a lot of doing. A first step is coming up with a comprehensive report on this meeting.

Before the meeting came to a close, both Stan Gacek and Bill Lucy committed themselves to each send a written assessment and analysis of the meeting to the California Labor Federation.  As of this wtriting, those documents have not been received.

One suggestion which seems very much in order, was to organize a working group that would coordinate with the CLF to deal with these issues. Would you be willing to participate in such a group?

Would you please send me your assessment or analysis of the meeting and your suggestions as to what should be done next.  Nothing you send will be used without attribution and neither will your name be used without your specific permission.

Would you please send me your assessment or analysis of the 10/14 meeting and your suggestions, notes - whatever you think appropriate for follow up. As an audience there was not much we could do but thereıs a hell of a lot to be done as a working group. Letıs get it on with some serious work toward achieving the goals set out in the ³Clear the Air² resolution.

Thank you in advance for responding to this email.  Please call if yoiu have any questions -  831/475-4192.   If Iım not on hand, leave a message and Iıll get back to you as soon as possible.  Please send your information

Fred Hirsch

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