I was blown away when the AFL-CIO promoted an extremely progressive May Day, 2020! I think it may be their first one since 1886, and it is amazing!
For May 1, 2020, the AFL-CIO promoted a daylong list of progressive activities. The best one was probably their own 10AM on-line meeting. Mayday with AFL-CIO was a quick look at our working class around the world during International Worker Solidarity Day. Special emphasis was on undocumented workers, refugees, and the “informal economy.” The importance of women was double underlined because all of the speakers were women.
The host was Cathy Feingold, International Director of the AFL-CIO and Deputy President of the International Trade Union Confederation. ITUC claims 200 million members worldwide. Speakers were from Morocco, Honduras, Bangladesh, and Europe — Brussels and Geneva. These were top union leaders and experts.
I was thrilled with the theme. We want a new social contract! The best part of the entire event was when Feingold said, “We don’t want to go back to normal!” We want a better world.
The ITUC has a petition for a new social contract: http://petitions.ituc-csi.org/let-s-build-resilient-economi… I hurried to sign it.
They Keep Getting Better
During the meeting, I was made aware of two slight distractions. One was an anti-communist named Anibal something. Anti-communists hate unionism. He/she had to add overthrowing Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua into the mix. I wrote back, “Great Anibal, just what we need, more divisions!”
The other distraction was more serious. A good friend of mine texted heavy criticism of the event, not because of anything about the event, but because it was sponsored by the AFL-CIO. He said the AFL-CIO was part of American imperialism.
On the upside, the guy agreed with me that the May Day meeting was a really good thing for the world working class, and a good thing for the working class is a good thing all around. But he made me want to share my perspective on the American labor movement and international relations.
I Remember When
I can remember when the AFL-CIO really was part of American imperialism. We used to call them the “AFL-CIA” because they took big bucks from the CIA and carried out their wishes. Their International Department was run by a guy named Jay Lovestone. Lovestone was a rogue Communist Party leader turned rabid anti-communist.
The President of the AFL-CIO was the last major American political figure to stop supporting the war in Vietnam. He persisted even after Nixon gave it up! He encouraged “hard hat” hooligans to beat up anti-war protesters!
I actually saw the “AFL-CIA” in action in 1979 when I first visited revolutionary Nicaragua. No sooner had the Sandinistas defeated the dictator Somoza than the AFL-CIA showed up with big money and an effort to organize “independent” unions. They meant independent of the revolution, but dependent on more money from the United States. Apparently, that was standard operating procedure for the AFL-CIA.
But some amazing changes started taking over the American labor movement in 1987. In that year, five of the most progressive unions met and formed Jobs with Justice. They used it to practice progressive unionism, and it was great. But that was only the beginning.
In 1995, for the first time in over 100 years, the outgoing AFL leadership did not pick its successors. Progressive leaders led by John Sweeney, Richard Trumka, and Linda Chavez-Thompson (of Texas) beat the status quo leaders out. Then they really started making changes.
In 1997, they took the anti-communist clause out of their constitution. I was there for that one, and I was floored! Sometime before 1999, they ditched their old International Department and replaced it with Solidarity. In 1999, I remember when they quit calling, as they had for 100 years, for deportations and started trying to organize the undocumented. Today, they are the best advocates that undocumented workers have. Their May Day event was all about workers without papers.
I’m not positive about this date, but I believe that it was in 2002 when imperialism was able to get the Venezuelan elite to kidnap President Hugo Chavez. The AFL-CIO joined in condemning the act and called for Chavez’ release.
I wish the present leadership of AFL-CIO would acknowledge their egregious mistakes of the past, and I don’t exactly blame young radicals who don’t realize how much they have changed, or even those who believe that everybody who doesn’t embrace their revolutionary ideas must be some kind of enemy. But those are minor gripes. Unions aren’t revolutionary, but they are working class. That’s worth remembering!
The fact is that the American AFL-CIO is a front-line progressive organization of the working class. I couldn’t be more proud!
I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. They podcast it along with some of my other audio events (Workers Beat Extra). If you are interested in what I really think, check out my personal web site