Inside the AFL-CIO
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Column #35 November 20, 2001

Council Supports War in Afghanistan,
Remains Silent on Convention Plans

By Harry Kelber

The AFL-CIO Executive Council on Nov. 8 officially endorsed the U.S. “war against terrorism,” while asserting that military action alone “will not produce a solution based on justice.”

“Only when the United States leads a global effort to reduce desperation and to empower peoples to determine their own destinies in a democratic manner will the siren song of terrorism lose its allure,” the Council said.

In approving the use of military force in Afghanistan, the Council said: “We share the resolve of the President and Congress to root out terrorism, even as we recognize this struggle may be long and difficult.”

But military action must be based upon principles of justice, the Council declared: “No longer can islands of prosperity survive untouched in oceans of despair. Interdependence means we are all vulnerable one to another. But it also means we all have a greater stake in justice and in freedom…Justice demands not simply that the guilty be punished, but that the innocent be empowered. Freedom means not simply the open exchange of goods, but the guarantee that every individual will have the economic and social freedoms needed to develop his or her potential to the fullest.”

It is unlikely that victory over the Taliban would lead to the improvements that the AFL-CIO envisions for the Afghan people. Their per capita income is among the lowest in the world and their country has been devastated by two decades of war. If union leaders are honest with themselves, they will admit that even in the United States working families are a long way from achieving empowerment.

The AFL-CIO urged Congress “not to allow hysteria to supplant judgment in granting new and secretive powers to the Justice Dept. and the intelligence agencies.” It expressed a particular concern for protecting the rights of people of the Islamic faith, Arab-Americans and immigrants from all nations.

The Executive Council’s statement on the war in Afghanistan was the only document to emerge from its day-long meeting in Washington. With the AFL-CIO convention set to begin on Dec. 3 in Las Vegas, Council members undoubtedly had many other issues on their minds, but they maintained their customary silence on all other matters.

They will have to decide whether to recommend the readmission of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners to the “House of Labor,” and on what terms. They must have considered whether or not to revamp labor’s 2002 political strategy in the light of the Sept. 11 attacks. There were questions about the federation’s financial stability, organizing and global solidarity campaigns, and whether certain programs should be expanded, trimmed or eliminated.

We have no idea what went on behind closed doors or what the various members said or proposed. The AFL-CIO’s two Web sites said almost nothing about the meeting. If you’re curious, you can read the minutes at the George Meany Memorial Archives in Maryland — but not before they are made public in the year 2026.

The AFL-CIO’s three top officers and the 51 members of the Executive Council are up for re-election at the convention. As is customary, incumbents never announce their intention to seek re-election until the third or fourth day of the convention, when nominations are followed immediately by the voting. This frees the incumbents from the necessity of explaining to the delegates why they deserve four more years in office. Since President John Sweeney and his team control more than 10 million of the 13 million votes to be cast, independent candidates haven’t a ghost of a chance of winning seats on the Council. In fact, the whole election process is a charade, a scripted scenario that is likely to last only a few minutes.

In all probability, Sweeney will serve another four years and then retire at age 70. While there have been ongoing discussions about who will succeed him, no consensus candidate has emerged.

Harry Kelber will be attending the AFL-CIO convention in Las Vegas next month. Look for exclusive coverage in upcoming columns and in our newsletter, The Labor Educator. “LaborTalk” can be viewed at every Monday. Our “Inside the AFL-CIO” column appears every Tuesday.

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