Voice of Reason from US Labor

ÁÎ×Ó¹â HenryC.K.Liu ¹ù¤l¥ú hliu at SPAMmindspring.com
Thu Jan 27 11:45:49 MST 2000


        by Jim Smith, L.A. Labor News <www.LAlabor.org>

The Battle of Seattle couldn't have come at a more auspicious time. As
our arbitrary measure of time clicked over to 2000, signs and portents
are in the air - or at least in the media. The reality behind the media
spin of "violent anarchists" running roughshod in the streets of Seattle
is that we might have just witnessed a turning point in political
struggle in the U.S. In a way, the Battle of Seattle was our initiation
into a worldwide struggle now in progress as shown in other Pacific rim
countries where huge demonstrations have erupted against APEC and in
Europe where massive - but unreported in the U.S. - demonstrations
against the NATO intervention in Yugoslavia have been routine.

Yet the degree of outrage against the WTO coming from the heart of the
Empire is a unique and important event. It was caused by a coming
together of divergent streams concerned with job loss, a widening income
gap, solidarity with the world's poor and a general dissatisfaction with
corporatization of the planet, and the neighborhood.

The fight against the WTO is fundamentally a struggle for democracy. If
the corporations continue to consolidate their power and dominance (this
is called neoliberalism in the rest of the world), individuals, groups
and nations will no longer be able to decide their destiny. The struggle
against corporate control and for greater democracy is what brought us
together and what can keep us together. Democratic elements include
extending the Bill of Rights into the workplace; protecting small
businesses against corporate chain stores; ending de facto segregation
and wildly unequal living standards and incomes; reforming the largest
prison-industrial complex in the world and eliminating the death
penalty; and having a "choice," not only in the market place but also in
the voting booth.

Political democracy is fast fading away as candidates of both major
parties align themselves with big money to win elections. A struggle for
political democracy should include strict campaign contribution laws or
complete public financing of elections; proportional representation;
bringing democracy into the community with local bodies with real powers
that are urban neighborhood. The extension of democracy and the
limitation of the powers of the corporation and the extremely wealthy is
in the interest of all organizations that met in Seattle, regardless of
their particular issue.


In order to sustain and build on this confluence of interest, all of the

major groups and organizations must concentrate on alliance building.
Just because we all came together in Seattle does not mean we have an
alliance. It was a great start. We rubbed elbows and were tolerant of
each other's issues and militancy. But, if Seattle was like a successful
first date, an alliance is like a marriage. If we are to aspire to take
on the corporate powers behind the WTO, neither an occasional
demonstration, no matter how large, nor a short-term coalition will be
sufficient. What is needed is a strong long-term alliance between labor,
environmental, anti-sweatshop and religious activists, immigrants,
communities of color, college students and youth.

Building a long-term alliance is different than forging a temporary
coalition. An alliance must be based on an agreement of principles and
goals by all participants. Perhaps the hardest part of building a
lasting alliance is the necessity for all participants to give up their
right to unfettered unilateral action, if that action might be
destructive to the alliance. Every participant in the alliance will have
to examine and
subordinate their "special interests" to those of the alliance.

In the U.S., unions will have to make the biggest change since most lack
a class analysis and many have fallen under corporate influence in a
thousand different instances from workplace "partnership" programs and
supporting development projects regardless of the impact on the
environment or other workers, to joining on a national level with big
business in pacts to fight the Kyoto anti-global warming accords. In
each of these cases, labor has put self interest ahead of the interests
of working people as a whole. In addition, the labor movement weakens
its credibility when it protests the WTO, NAFTA and other trade pacts
while at the same time it supports free-trade politicians. Labor can
make the change but it has to truly "think globally."

How can unions be expected to oppose a development project to be built
on scarce wetlands if it will create construction jobs, or airport
expansion that will create transportation jobs as it destroys the
quality of life of thousands of working families in the flight path? The
answer lies in acting as part of a "social movement" that works to build
affordable housing, schools and hospitals instead of being the bully boy
for wealthy interests who need labor's clout to win another corporate
development scheme. A "social movement" must examine the "content" of a
job, as well as its wage and benefits. William Winpisinger and the
Machinists' "peacetime conversion" movement of the late 70s needs to be
revived and expanded. The 1930's rallying cry of "jobs or income" must
be taken up again. It is only to the extent that workers feel they have
"survival security" and are not just wage slaves, that they will act in
the general interest and not just in self interest.

There is no turning back from a global economy. The only question is in
whose interest will it be - corporations or people? It is only by going
forward to a fair trade economy based on improving the welfare of
individuals and regions that we will be able to survive. The labor
movement must reject job protectionism that is based on trade or
immigration barriers. The search for an alternative answer to the
problem of job loss must begin on the societal level, not the plant
level. In the U.S., labor and our emerging anti-corporate alliance, must
begin to define an acceptable living standard - including food, shelter,
recreation, health care, and education - below which no one, and no
family, can fall. This guaranteed annual income would apply to all,
including low-wage workers, the unemployed, homeless, disabled and
retired. It would give a measure of security to millions on the edge of
hopelessness or homelessness. It would serve to replace competition
among workers with unity based on working to constantly improve living
conditions. Other countries might choose to adopt a similar model based
on their own unique cultural and living standards. It should be
understood that to create such a country or world, without starvation,
poverty and homelessness, there must be a radical reversal in the income
gap between the super-rich and everyone else.


Regardless of how we in the U.S. choose to restructure our economy and
society, we cannot dictate our views or solutions to the rest of the
world. On the eve of the 21st century, the entire world is detrimentally
affected by the military and economic power of the United States and its
corporations. Working people and our various organizations and movements
should not make the mistake of emulating those who oppress us. Rather,
we should seek common cause with workers and their organizations in the
developing and developed world.

Environmental organizations have done a much better job in reaching out
to the third world than has labor. In some important respects, the
AFL-CIO is still fighting the cold war. Although President John Sweeney
and his New Voices leadership has purged many of the spooks from the
federation's international department, old habits die hard. When
international labor congresses held in Cuba attract unions from around
the world, the AFL-CIO is not present. No effort is made to contact and
discuss common problems with, for instance, the All China Confederation
of Trade Unions. Instead it is dismissed as a tool of the Chinese
government, a charge that would have stuck against the AFL-CIO during
the Meany-Kirkland years. Perhaps this is so, but if Nixon can go to
China, and Jiang can be hosted in the White House by Clinton, why can't
Sweeney visit a union hall in Shanghai?

Instead, leaders of the AFL-CIO seem intent on shifting the attack from
the WTO itself, to China's entry into that organization. They claim that
China's entry into the World Trade Organization, which already includes
135 nations, would make it difficult or impossible to achieve labor
accords. Their position that the WTO can be reformed, with or without
China, is naive. The WTO is a creature of the transnational corporations
and always will be. China and Chinese factories are not the enemy, U.S.
corporations are. AFL-CIO leaders' time would be better spent working to
take the U.S. out of the WTO. An intensive campaign of persuasion and
engagement should be directed at Sweeney and the AFL-CIO Executive
Council to focus on the real enemy.

The China baiting follows on the heels of Sweeney's signature on a
letter with corporate CEOs that endorsed Clinton's WTO agenda. It is
therefore appropriate to ask why the U.S. labor movement is unwilling to
make connections with its opposite numbers in other countries in the
same way as do churches, environmentalists and others? Clearly what is
needed in the Sixteenth Street headquarters of the AFL-CIO and in union
halls around the country is an approach based on class, not national
boundaries or pro-business ideology.


Even with a class approach by U.S. labor, there exists the problem of
the enormous disparity of income and living standards around the world.
This can only be solved in the short run by a massive transfer of wealth
from North to South, from capitalists to very poor workers. This was the
avowed purpose of the post-World War II Marshall Plan, although its
not-so-hidden agenda was fighting communism. A massive, and fair,
"Marshall Plan" administered by international agencies could eradicate
the worst features of underdevelopment in a generation. If Bill Gates,
alone, would be content to live on millions of dollars instead of
billions, the wealth of the poorest two billion people on the planet
could be doubled instantly. We are so rich as a society and they - most
of the world - are so poor, that it is shameful not to take whatever
action is required to reduce the income gap. The alternative is to live
in a world where everyone confronts a worsening ecological and political

While no less than fundamental ideological shifts and massive social
engineering is required to get us out of this mess that has been created
by rapacious capitalism, the first steps in that direction can be small
and manageable.

The veterans of Seattle need to win the "spin" battle about what really
happened there. Is it lunatic anarchists or lunatic capitalists that we
must fear? We veterans must fan out across the country and across our
communities to educate the uninformed or misinformed and speak to any
audience that will listen to us about corporate domination,
neoliberalism and the crushing of democracy and hope in the future. Let
the Battle of Seattle continue in every town, campus and workplace in
America. And in particular, let's spread the call for even more massive
demonstrations at the pro-WTO conventions of the Republicans in
Philadelphia and the Democrats in Los Angeles.

We veterans of Seattle - and that includes everyone who wanted to be
there in the streets - know that the World Trade Organization is a
creature - a monster - of its corporate masters. It will stop at nothing

to defend itself and the few who want to have everything. It must be
abolished. Fair trade, and fairness in general, can be administered
through a United Nations organization where everyone has a seat at the
table and there are open and democratic rules designed to build a better
world for all.

Jim Smith <JSmith at LAlabor.org> is a Los Angeles labor activist and
editor of L.A. Labor News, <www.LAlabor.org>. An earlier article, "Labor
Eyewitness to the Battle of Seattle" is also posted on the L.A. Labor
News website.

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