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August 26, 2005 | Page 8

Opportunity for labor?
A different law for Blacks

Step back for the unions?

LEE SUSTAR'S "What now after the split in the AFL-CIO?" takes a somewhat neutral stand on the Change to Win coalition's exodus from the AFL-CIO (August 5). I think it is important to take a more decisive position on this split--to say that it will be an actual step backwards in the short term for what is left of the labor movement in this country.

Those who have a more neutral or "step sideways" position say that we must talk with the rank and file in our unions and argue on the left that neither SEIU President Andrew Stern nor AFL-CIO President John Sweeney offer a way forward--that labor will turn around when rank-and-file democracy grows, when workers start to make decisions about their own unions and reject business unionism, and when workers begin organizing anew.

Absolutely. I agree we need to take this argument forward, but we should go farther. We should criticize Stern for leaving the AFL-CIO and further dividing labor's forces without talking to the rank and file. We should roundly criticize Sweeney for allowing this split to happen--for not substantively addressing any of the real critiques raised by the Change to Win coalition and for painting this debate at the top as only about dues rebates.

This is not a "unity-at-all-costs" approach; this is a criticism that gets to very heart of the matter. Neither Sweeney nor Stern know what is best for the rank and file and are so thoroughly trained in business unionism that we should expect nothing more from them until we push them hard from below.

The bottom line is that this split is going to be harmful to our local work. We will see raiding and jurisdictional battles increase as two smaller groups of unions fight over the craps. Working-class and labor consciousness is in such a place that some staffers in my union (an American Federation of Teachers affiliate) question what our relationship to an SEIU picket line would be at our schools since they've left the AFL-CIO.

A period of confusion will follow in state and local labor councils and umbrella groups like Pride at Work and U.S. Labor Against the War, where we will have to argue to build solidarity despite the split at the top. This is bad, and a result of a split in forces that are already weak and declining.

The bosses are going to use this split to further denigrate unions. Calling the split a step backwards does not mean the status quo was working.
Adrienne Johnstone, United Educators of San Francisco, San Francisco

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Opportunity for labor?

THE SPLIT in the AFL-CIO has four unions boycotting the national convention--the Teamsters, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and UNITE HERE--and three others--the Laborers union, the Carpenters and the United Farm Workers--joining their new formation, the Change to Win Coalition.

It seems to me that Lee Sustar has hit the nail on the head ("Will the AFL-CIO split in Chicago?" July 22). The leadership in these unions are less interested in workers' self-activity and organization than in padding their own pockets with membership dues and saving their own jobs from angry members.

However, isn't it possible that the split will be interpreted by the membership as a call to action--as a sign that the leadership will indorse union militancy and will back up struggles? The "dissident" union leaders did say that the AFL-CIO spent more on electoral campaigns and not enough on union organizing.

To grassroots union militants, this can be interpreted as a willingness to spend union dues on such militant actions as strikes. The public split among the elected leaders of the union movement as to the amount of resources spent on an electoral campaign as opposed to a membership drive can lead to an overall questioning of how to best defend workers against the onslaught of capitalism by union members themselves.

Of course, the "dissident" official union leaderships are merely avoiding the question of support for the Democratic Party. For them, it is matter of prioritizing the spending of limited resources. I doubt that President Dennis Rivera of 1199, SEIU (a former New York state chair of the Democratic Party) will refrain from calling for union members to vote Democratic (or if need be, Republican) in the next election.

But the objective interpretation of the split may eventually lead to challenging the leadership's continued and/or subdued support for the Democratic (or Republican) Party. In other words, splits at the "top" can lead to openings for activism on the grassroots level--an opening that socialists and militants should exploit to the hilt.
Nathan Aaron Selles-Alvarez, New York City

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A different law for Blacks

RACISM HAS reared its ugly head in Toledo, Ohio's criminal injustice system. Michael-Franklin Green is facing two felony charges under Toledo's racially enforced gun laws.

Michael, who is African American, was given two felony charges for simply having an unloaded gun in his backpack in a local Metropark. His gun was registered in another state, and he did not have time to apply for a concealed carry-permit upon arriving in town to visit his ailing mother.

Initially, Michael was racially profiled by park rangers, who confiscated his gun, but did not arrest him. However, prosecutors were determined to make Michael-Franklin Green a scapegoat, and slapped two felony charges on him when he showed up for his arraignment June 2.

As a law-abiding citizen with no prior convictions, his treatment stands in stark contrast to that of Bruce Beatty, who has openly violated local concealed weapons laws in a Toledo Metropark. Beatty, who is white, was given a minor misdemeanor and allowed to keep his gun.

Michael is a longtime labor activist who risks losing his merchant mariner's card if he is convicted of a felony. Fortunately, activists are building a grassroots defense campaign to fight this blatant racism. Michael's trial is scheduled to begin September 16 in the Court of Common Pleas, and activists plan to pack the courtroom.
Patrick Dyer, Toledo, Ohio

Call 419-320-2230 to help defend Michael-Franklin Green.

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