Fw: [SLDRTY-L]: WTO/ The Kids Are Alright (fwd)
soldoll at SPAMinreach.com
Fri Dec 10 18:42:59 MST 1999
From: Peter Olson <Peter.Olson at oberlin.edu>
To: sldrty-l at igc.topica.com <sldrty-l at igc.topica.com>
Date: Friday, December 10, 1999 4:42 PM
Subject: [SLDRTY-L]: WTO/ The Kids Are Alright (fwd)
Let's keep the real info coming....
Here's a nice summation of the WTO goings-on by a prominent trade
union activist from Boston. Amongst other things, it has a bit more
rounded perspective on the property destruction that went on than
some of the posts I've just been reading. Definitely worth a read.
THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT....
Jeff Crosby (KROZ12 at aol.com) December 6, 1999
I went to Seattle with 15 members of unions in the North Shore Labor
Council, from the area between Boston and New Hampshire in
Massachusetts. Eleven were from IUE Local 201 at the GE plant in
Lynn and Ametek Aerospace in Wilmington (my union local, of which I
am President). Contrary to the musings of Robert Reich and others
that the primary loss of jobs in the United States through NAFTA and
"free trade" would be unskilled work, both GE and Ametek aircraft
engine work are headed to Mexico, Russia, China, Brazil, and other
countries. The engineering and planning work is going as well.
Company documents had been leaked to us showing that GE Aircraft
Engines is not only in a two-year, all-out push to ship work
overseas, but is demanding that all their vendors do the same. At a
meeting in Monterrey, Mexico, earlier this year, GE told assembled
vendors (over 70 companies) that they would move to Mexico or get cut
off from all GE business. "This is not an informative meeting", they
told the smaller companies. "We expect you to move, and to move
In a presentation called "Why Mexico?", GE told Ametek and the other
vendors: average manufacturing worker makes $6 a day, unions are
"friendly", and environmental regulations are not a problem. It was
a cold-blooded plan to destroy our own livelihoods and prey off
people at starvation wages.
Ametek has not been a bad place to work. We have 290 members there.
We build everything from cable attachments to aircraft engines to
thermocouples and other aerospace work. The Wilmington, Ma. plant
had won awards as "supplier of the year" from GE, and the "Lux" award
as the highest quality Ametek plant within the Ametek chain. We had
multi-skilled the workforce through a union-company negotiation, and
brought in state training money to increase the skill level of the
We thought we were doing everything right, and so did Ametek. And
now we were going to be thrown on the street. One GE worker in our
group has been laid off 11 times.
So we were pissed. After 7 or 8 years working on trade issues in our
local union, it was not hard to sign up 11 people for the trip. Some
great trade unionists from other unions in the Council came along as
well (SEIU, AFGE, AFSCME). All of us paid our own way and looked to
have some fun as well as do some serious protesting.
My impressions from a week in Seattle:
1. The group learned a lot
With help from our International Union, we built a float, a barge
representing GE CEO Jack Welch's infamous quote: "Ideally, you'd have
every plant you own on a barge". Again with the help of the
International Union, we did 15-20 interviews, especially with media
in the Boston area about our issues.
We talked with lots of students, farmers from Japan, people from
India, professors from Boston College, steelworkers from Ohio,
environmentalists of various stripes, church activists, as well as
anyone who happened to be seated next to us on a plane or in the
airport, and the waitresses and cabbies that we met in Seattle.
A year's worth of political discussion was compressed into 6 days:
the role of the different movements, the role of the folks from other
countries, the question of violence and civil disobedience, etc.
Anyone who missed Seattle missed a great chance to build up their
core of leaders and activists in their union or other group. Trade
unionists in the US don't exist in a vacuum, and we see ourselves
more clearly when we see ourselves in relationship to others.
2. The Kids Are Alright-and have much to teach us.
The labor movement basically piggy-backed on the courage of the young
environmentalists and anti-sweatshop and church activists.
Without the direct action, which disrupted the WTO, the labor march
would have received a 90 second clip on the nightly news, with some
voiceover like, "A bunch of inefficient union workers from the
rustbelt marched for a return of the bad old days. Fortunately the
WTO delegates largely ignored these bits of road kill on the way to
the new economy. Although they are hopeless Luddites, it is true
that something must be done for the losers in the new world economy
who are too old and hidebound to run a computer...."
Then again, without the tens of thousands of union members, it would
have been easier to write off the young protesters as flakes, people
who aren't worried about basic issues like having to earn a living. I
guess the ideal mix was summed up in the now-famous sign carried by
one kid in the Tuesday march: "Teamsters and Turtles, Together at
The decision by the AFL-CIO not to plan direct action was a mistake.
The literature and petition the AFL-CIO used for Seattle was mostly
unreadable and unusable, with no edge. Despite some heroic efforts
by union folks in Seattle and other places, the AFL-CIO campaign was
reminiscent of the "old" AFL-CIO's campaign against NAFTA-remember
"Not This NAFTA"? If we had run a campaign against the Congressional
"Fast-track" vote with "not this fast-track", we would have lost that
one, too. Did anyone really try to bring people to Seattle under the
slogan, "We demand a working group"?
This is a period when on certain issues, massive, non-violent direct
action is in order, as the demonstration in Seattle shows. Every
member who went on our trip reports that support for the
demonstrations, even with the disruptions, is overwhelming. And not
just from other workers in the shop, but family and other friends,
regardless of what they do for a living. "Since we came home, we're
being treated like conquering heroes," marveled one of our group.
Perhaps the AFL-CIO was driven by policy advisors in the Washington
who didn't understand how angry people are about this issue. (The
polls were there for the reading-or they could have asked people in
the field). Perhaps they did not want to embarrass Gore. Perhaps
Sweeney had an agreement by Clinton to ask for enforceable labor
standards. Perhaps they thought that most people would be turned off
by civil disobedience, or something else, I don't know. There were
plenty of people in the labor movement pushing for the labor movement
to join in the Direct Action-we lost.
Clinton's commitment, prior to the demonstration, to support a
"working group" to review the effects of the agreements on labor was
not taken seriously by anyone outside of Washington. It was blown
away as meaningless by Clinton's own trade negotiator Barshevsky as
soon as Sweeney signed on to the administration's letter on US trade
goals at the WTO. Clinton himself left the "working group" in the
dust when he came to Seattle and proposed at the last minute that
enforceable labor standards be included in talks for the next WTO
round. With his record of duplicity (remember the NAFTA side accords
on labor rights?) this has to be seen as a sop to bail out Gore more
than anything else-although of course it's good he said it, and
indicates strength on our part.
I did an interview on a "Trade Watch" program by NPR and others, on
the same show as Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Cleveland. He
predicted that both Democratic candidates would start moving towards
the labor movement on trade during the primaries, and that the
eventual candidate will pick a running mate that has a strong
pro-labor and environment record on trade agreements. Sounds likely
For our part, we have to just keep doing what got us here, and not
put our hopes on any of the presidential candidates.
In Seattle, we were, in a sense. bailed out by the kids. The
Steelworkers-hats off to them-- and Longshoremen (ILWU) did a great
job, with the Longshoremen shutting down all West Coast ports! The
Teamsters made a major effort to mobilize for Seattle as well--those
were the unions that went all out, as far as I could tell. (Of
course the local Seattle and Washington unions did as well.)
3. The Fair-trade movement is an internationalist movement..
Even some of the mainstream commentaries noted this. I was proud
that the AFL-CIO rally had speakers from Mexico, South Africa, the
Caribbean, China, France, etc. A Ford maquiladora worker got a
huge response at the AFL-CIO rally when she shouted, "Long Live the
Zapatistas!" It reminded me of a day in January of 1994, after our
bitter defeat on the NAFTA vote, when a member of our local union's
Legislative Committee came into the union hall, all pumped up. He
had a newspaper story of the Chiapas rebellion, which had just broken
out: "Man, these guys really hate NAFTA!"
There could be no mistake that this was not a Pat Buchanan crew. This
makes building alliances easier, both within the US and across
borders. We've come a long way from thinking that the answer is just
to "Buy American."
There will still be issues. I am told that even some of the third
world unions are not in favor of enforceable labor standards in trade
agreements, like many of their governments. This will have to be
4. Whose "violence'?
If you were not there, think for a moment about what you did not read
about: the number of injured police, buildings being burned, etc.
Virtually none of this happened. I only read about "firebombs" when I
got back to my hometown newspaper. I never read or heard a word
about that when I was in Seattle, and I was there through Thursday.
Some union folks were pissed off about the anarchists breaking
windows downtown, feeling that it was getting all the media coverage
and our message was getting lost. I heard nothing but respect for
the direct action folks.
For some reason, the role of the faith-based organizations was nearly
blacked out in the press that I read. Church services and marchers
of thousands got little ink. They often focused on canceling third
world debt, or workers' rights-groups like Preamble or Jubilee 2000.
The development of a powerful faith-based movement in support of
workers rights and a just international economy is a key story of the
'90s, and was very evident in Seattle.
Denouncing the violence of the protesters, in my opinion, only plays
into the media game of putting the blame on the demonstrators.
The endless gassing and firing of plastic projectiles and rubber
bullets into crowds of non-violent demonstrators made no sense to me
at all. Tear gas will make you move along temporarily, but it won't
generally make you go home, especially if you have come to a
demonstration with the intention of getting arrested in civil
disobedience. Most of the financial losses reported by merchants were
from lost business, and the main reason nobody wanted to go downtown
was because the cops were gassing everywhere and hundreds of
scary-looking automatons were blocking off the streets.
The cops also had a few innovations since the '60s, like guns that
shoot 2-inch chunks of wooden dowel at people. One of these dowels
broke a window a few inches above the head of SEIU staffer with us-he
snatched it up and kept it as a souvenir.
Perhaps most important, any focus on the alleged "violence" and
"rioting" of the protesters takes the focus away from on the
corporations who are trashing continents, not a few plate-glass
5. So what has changed?
Usually when something goes right, we suffer from euphoria and
overestimate our gains. And the corporations always have more
resources than we do in the effort to define what has happened, and
they make up some of their losses. So there is a second "Battle of
Seattle" that is now underway. The first was in Seattle. The second
is the battle for public opinion over what Seattle means. The first
thing we need to do is address this second battle with every means at
As has been pointed out in many other places, everyone is talking
about the WTO. Add this to our victories on Fast-Track in Congress
(twice), and the collapse of the talks on a Multi-lateral Agreement
on Investment--we are driving the agenda.
I was optimistic about public support for the anti-WTO
demonstrations, but even so I was amazed at how broad it was. A
Seattle cabbie, picking his way through the gas, told us, "Good. You
can't just lie down." A programmer for Fidelity financial services,
of all companies, who happened to be seated between two of us on a
flight from Philadelphia to Boston, told us: "You were there? Great.
They were protesting in Italy, too." At a church-community coalition
dinner in which we are involved, it was a main point of discussion.
Speakers used it as an example of how you can change things through
action. The head of the local community health center bumped in to a
couple of us at lunch and told us, "Hey, congratulations on Seattle."
What's great is that for most of the demonstrators in Seattle, this
was not a one-time thing. They are already organized, and have
already been working on trade, labor and environmental issues for
years, and return to their organizations energized for more.
At least for a moment, and I am hopeful that it will last, the "There
Is No Alternative" (to quote Margaret Thatcher) crowd is back on
their heels. And the "There Must Be An Alternative" crowd (our side)
is on the offensive. The stereotypes of the "selfish generation" of
young folks, and of the labor neanderthals, both took direct hits in
So now back to work. Catch up on your union grievances, catch up on
your schoolwork, catch up on your sleep. Then take advantage of the
presidential elections, the debate over Most Favored Nation status
for China, and whatever else comes along to broaden the coalition and
deepen our roots.
Jeff Crosby (KROZ12 at aol.com) December 6, 1999
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