cj#1038> Seattle labor viewpoint: THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT

1999-12-15

Richard Moore


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From: •••@••.•••
To: "Social Movements List" <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Another Seattle report
Date: Wed, 15 Dec 1999 18:50:48 -0000

Quite an interesting trade-union voice....
Colin Barker

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THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT....
by Jeff Crosby

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
soon."

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 workforce.

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 Last."

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 to
me.

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 worked out.

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 windows.

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
out disposal.

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 Seattle.

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.

Congratulations, everyone.


Jeff Crosby  (•••@••.•••)   December 6, 1999




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Richard K Moore
Wexford, Irleand
Citizens for a Democratic Renaissance
•••@••.•••
http://cyberjournal.org


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                indeed it's the only thing that ever has.
                        - Margaret Mead

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