The Labor Education Project on AFL-CIO International Operations (LEPAIO), an international group of labor activists, scholars, and journalists will hold two actions to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the horrific 1973 military coup in Chile. September 11, 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of the coup that overthrew the democratically elected coalition government of Salvador Allende and ushered in a military dictatorship led by Army General Augusto Pinochet. The coup and subsequent brutal dictatorship were aided and supported by the US government of Richard Nixon and the AFL-CIO of George Meany.
Despite the recent upsurge in worker militancy, union membership and density have been declining for decades. But a close look at labor’s finances suggests that unions have the economic resources to potentially reverse this decline. Standard explanations for labor’s decline blame our grossly unfair labor laws, the full-scale corporate attack on organizing and collective bargaining, and economic trends including the decline of manufacturing. But labor is not a passive bystander. Unions have the resources to deploy to new organizing and growth. They have chosen to pursue a defensive financial strategy instead. Consider the National Education Association. Since 2010 its membership has declined by nearly 300,000—while its net assets more than doubled.
A little known fact, even to those who work there, is that the AFL-CIO organizes in support of US imperialist policies that drive a global race to the bottom in wages and working conditions, negatively impacting US workers too. The AFL-CIO's Solidarity Center is one of the four core components of the National Endowment for Democracy. Clearing the FOG speaks with Kim Scipes, a co-founder of the new Labor Education Project on the AFL-CIO's International Operations (LEPAIO). Scipes describes the long history of labor imperialism and how unions are challenging it. Adrienne Pine provides a brief report on workers protesting the brutal labor practices of the State Department's main contractor, BL Harbert, building the US Embassy in Honduras.
Much of the world was horrified in early May when Shireen Abu Akleh, a renowned Al Jazeera reporter, was shot in the head by Israeli troops while on assignment in Jenin in the Occupied West Bank. Not long before, the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) President Liz Shuler had been photographed with Labor Party Chair Merav Michaeli, a strong supporter of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, along with Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). None of the three raised any outcry subsequently after Akleh was killed. Shuler moreover sent a letter to the San Francisco Labor Council stating that its delegates could not discuss a boycott of Israel. The AFL-CIO’s current support for Israel fits a long historical pattern.
The single best measurement of the strength of labor unions is union density — the percentage of the total workforce that is unionized. Nothing makes the crushing decline of unions in America more intelligible than the fact that at their height in the mid-20th century, one in three workers was a union member, and today, scarcely one in 10 is. All of the downstream damages to the working class — lower relative wages, higher economic inequality, less political power — flow from this decline. We know, therefore, that increasing union density is the labor movement’s most pressing task. Thus, the AFL-CIO — America’s largest union coalition, representing the vast majority of our nation’s union members — unveiled, at its convention in Philadelphia, with much fanfare, a brand new formal goal: to see to it that union density keeps declining for the next decade.
Earlier today, many were unexpectedly locked out of the AFL-CIO convention after the Secret Service closed the doors for the arrival of President Joe Biden. The lockout infuriated activists and delegates who had arrived early to see Biden, but many also saw it as a metaphor for how people are being excluded from the convention as a whole. Shockingly, the AFL-CIO did not invite the Amazon Labor Union, since it’s an independent union and doesn’t belong to the AFL-CIO. Nor did the convention invite members of the SEIU-affiliated Starbucks Workers United. “It’s just petty,” one senior union official told Payday Report. “Starbucks and Amazon are two of the most exciting campaigns in recent memory, and we don’t even have anyone here from those campaigns to learn lessons from these campaigns.”
This is the first project to focus on AFL-CIO operations around the globe since efforts to pass the “Build Unity and Trust Among Workers World-wide” Resolution at the 2005 National Convention in Chicago. This new project, LEPAIO, is hoping to build support for the 2022 national conference in Philadelphia this June 12-15. Speakers at the educational conference spoke on a number of issues, noting that the education conference on April 9th came on the 20th anniversary of the attempted (but failed) coup against democratically-elected President of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez. Speakers Margaret Flowers, William Camacaro, and James Patrick Jordan spoke of the on-going US attacks on Venezuela that continue today, particularly through economic sanctions supported by the AFL-CIO.
The AFL-CIO recently hosted a fundraiser by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) which aimed to support labor organizations in Ukraine assisting families suffering through the current crisis. One of the labor organizations is the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine (KVPU) which is a partner of the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center. The current chairman of KVPU is Mykhailo Volynets who is pictured on the left sitting next to his deputy, Ihor Kniazhansky, of the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion.
On July 2020, a month after protests over racial injustice and police violence set the AFL-CIO headquarters on fire, America’s largest union coalition formed a “Task Force on Racial Justice” as a signal that it was taking the issues seriously. A subcommittee of that task force was charged with producing a report on the touchy issue of the labor movement’s relationship to police unions. In These Times has obtained a copy of that committee’s draft report, which is currently circulating within the group before being released to the public. As it stands, the report amounts to a definitive rejection of calls for the labor movement to separate itself from police unions, and a clear statement that the AFL-CIO intends to stay closely aligned with its police members.
For as long as Richard Trumka has been a national AFL-CIO leader—more than a quarter of a century—his labor federation has been encouraging its local affiliates to revitalize themselves to help reverse union decline. Now nearing retirement as AFL-CIO president, Trumka was part of a “New Voice” slate that challenged old guard officials for control of the organization in 1995, via its first contested election in a century. New Voice candidates promised to work with state and local AFL-CIO councils to make labor’s political action and workplace solidarity more effective. Among the reforms they implemented was hiring more staff to promote picketing and protests by union members under attack by hostile employers.
Broadly speaking, there have been two very large labor stories this year. The first is, “I have been forced into unemployment due to the pandemic, and I am scared.” And the second is, “I have been forced to continue working during the pandemic, and I am scared.” America’s labor reporters spent most of our year writing variations of these stories, in each company and in each industry and in each city. Those stories continue to this day. The federal government left working people utterly forsaken. They did not create a national wage replacement system to pay people to stay home, as many European nations did. OSHA was asleep on the job, uninterested in workplace safety related to coronavirus.
Like every other social movement in the U.S. this year, the compounding crises of 2020 proved a catalyzing force for the labor movement, compelling essential and frontline workers to join picket lines to ensure basic protections and increased pay as they continue to face disproportionate risks and increasingly perilous working conditions amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But essential workers weren’t the only sector on strike this year: Prisoners and tenants across the country also withheld their labor and rent to fight for their fundamental human right to life and housing. Building momentum after major strike waves in 2018 and 2019, 2020 has cemented the strike’s resurgence as a crucial tactic for workers and organizers not only in the U.S. but around the world.
The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) Solidarity Center has a long history of working hand in glove with the U.S. government in undermining democracy and left labor movements throughout the world. The center emphasizes it has shifted away from these Cold War tactics in recent years. But newly obtained documents show that the Solidarity Center has worked closely with the US to undermine the Venezuelan government in the recent past. Across much of the world, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) acted as an international arm of U.S. foreign policy, both before and during the Cold War. In doing so, the AFL-CIO sought to undermine left-leaning and communist groups, labor unions, and governments — with little concern for democracy and often with no compunction about using or supporting brutal violence — in Italy and France in the 1940s, Guatemala in the 1950s, Brazil in the 1960s, Chile in the 1970s, and many other countries.
Union locals and progressive factions within larger unions have taken up the call. The King County Labor Council expelled the Seattle police union last week, and even SEIU leader Mary Kay Henry, the head of the most powerful union outside of the AFL-CIO, said that disaffiliation “must be considered” if police unions don’t reform. Last Friday, the proposal from the Writers Guild received its first serious and direct discussion at a meeting of the AFL-CIO’s executive council, the elected body that governs the group. Mark Dimondstein, the head of the American Postal Workers Union, raised the issue, saying that the AFL-CIO would eventually have no choice but to deal with the issue head-on. Trumka, who was leading the meeting, pushed back claiming many police officers today are “community-friendly.” He also disagreed with Dimondstein’s characterization of labor’s differences with police as “irreconcilable.”
By John Wojcik and Mark Gruenberg for People's World - ST. LOUIS – The AFL-CIO convention here passed yesterday a political resolution that calls for a break with “lesser of two evil politics” but came up short when it comes to projecting a clear path to how that will be accomplished. “The time has passed when we can passively settle for the lesser of two evils,” reads the main political resolution passed Tuesday by the AFL-CIO convention delegates. Lee Saunders, chair of the AFL-CIO’s political committee and president of AFSCME, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, introduced the resolution. They lead the labor federation’s two largest unions. Convention managers yoked the resolution to another measure it also approved discussing a labor party, though not by name. “For decades the political system has failed working people,” Weingarten said. “Acting on behalf of corporations and the rich and powerful, the political system has been taking away, one after another, the pillars that support working people’s right to good jobs and secure benefits.” The two measures, adopted October 24, followed a late Monday-evening meeting of supporters of reviving the Labor Party idea. It attracted about 50 delegates to an upstairs meeting room at the convention’s lead hotel. Their contention: Both the Democrats and the Republicans are under corporate domination.