Dear Brother, Sister, Friend,
As you daily confront the challenges of leading or representing union members or other workers, in whatever capacity, awareness of the current situation of the labor movement is unavoidable: we are in trouble, and we need to audaciously address our weaknesses and limitations if we are to have a chance to regain the power and the purpose of our labor movement.
I have been working on issues of international labor solidarity for at least forty years. The clear truth is that labor is strongest when we are united, not just locally or with workers within our own nation, but with workers around the world.
Through these decades I have found that the AFL-CIO foreign policy leadership has been operating in our name, but behind our backs, doing damage to workers in the so-called developing countries. Further, about 90 percent of their operations abroad have been funded by the U.S. government, with no mandate from or reporting to AFL-CIO union affiliates and members. Thus, the activities of AFL-CIO foreign policy leaders have been sabotaging the very principles of international labor solidarity that they and we have proclaimed. I see this as undermining the democracy, transparency, and accountability so necessary to strengthen our unions here at home. We should no longer accept such unprincipled lack of accountability.
There’s a new book coming out next month that examines these issues in great detail. I have read the manuscript. There are a few embarrassing things in it for me, but it is written clearly and with love and respect for our labor movement around the world. It is written by Kim Scipes, who is currently a member of the National Writers Union, AFL-CIO. He is a former Sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps (1969-73). Kim was a union printer who struggled to earn a Ph.D. in Sociology and now teaches at a regional campus of Purdue University in Indiana. I have known Kim for over 20 years, and we’ve worked together on various projects over that time: he is a solid union brother.
I ask that you order and read his book, AFL-CIO’s Secret war against Developing Country Workers: Solidarity or Sabotage? Don’t believe a word Kim says: read it critically, and look at the picture he describes through your own lens. If he makes sense, then let’s communicate about how we can address this glaring contradiction in the labor movement; if he doesn’t, then ignore or speak out against the book. My guess is that we’re going to be communicating favorably about what to do with the information.
This is an academic book, so it is only being published right now in hard back; accordingly, it’s more expensive than most of us might spend on a book. Two things: one, this is so crucial to the future of the labor movement that I would argue that the price is certainly money well spent. And two, we need to get this book into the hands of rank-and-file workers: if 185 copies of the book are sold, the publisher will seriously consider bringing it out in paperback at a much lower cost. Then we can begin the general conversation that we need to be having with our brothers and sisters in every union and with our progressive friends.
I’ve attached a flyer that gives a 20 percent discount on the book if you use the publisher’s code. That will help ease the price pain somewhat. But almost every organization can afford a copy — maybe more than one. I think it’s within the reach of each of us to get one for its vital information — and to help get the book to a wider readership.
Please get it, read it, share and discuss it with your union sisters and brothers and progressive friends. I would love to hear from you, and get your thoughts and reactions. We’ve taken some actions of genuine consequence on this issue in California. Most notably, the 2004 California Labor Federation convention unanimously demanded that the AFL-CIO fully account for what it has done abroad in our name — on the federal payroll — and renounce any ties that make labor groups into government agents or agents of Corporate America in its drive for economic globalization. I’ve been a member of Plumbers and Fitters Local 393 for a half-century and it’s a source of real pride to me that we passed the first version of that resolution.
The Sweeney administration put aside democracy at the 2005 AFL-CIO National Convention in Chicago and played from the bottom of the deck to block California’s resolution. That’s one of the stories ably told in Kim’s book.
This is a matter that we’ve got to look at squarely if we’re to rebuild and revitalize our labor movement and the progressive movement in general. I hope you will get the book, get back to me about it, and please pass this request on to your own network of union contacts and progressive friends.
Fred Hirsch may be contacted at <email@example.com>. See, also, Kim Scipes, “Labor Imperialism Redux?: The AFL-CIO’s Foreign Policy since 1995” (Monthly Review, May 2005)