By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Meeting in its executive council in mid-February, the AFL-CIO unveiled an ambitious and dramatic strategic campaign for “global fairness.” And the unions are serious as heart attacks about all this. The AFL-CIO stunned its traditional partners in the Democratic Party when, during this past primary season, it ran TV ad campaigns against the China deal in the districts of five Democratic free traders.
No wonder, then, that the AFL-CIO has signed on to participate and take the lead in one of the key actions during A16. On April 12, Dolan hopes to bring as many as 15,000 or more union bodies to the steps of Congress. “It‘s going to be a day of citizen lobbying,” he says. “Thousands of workers and their families swarming all over the Hill, all with the same message: No to the China deal.” Teamsters president James P. Hoffa tells me that he “guarantees” that his union alone will put “at least 5,000” Teamsters onto Washington’s streets that day. And the Steelworkers Union, battered by a hemorrhage of jobs overseas, is making a similar commitment for an action the following day.
The anti-China push coming out of Seattle, carried now in great part by labor, has already surpassed mere protest symbolism and is reverberating inside the congressional corridors. In the days before Seattle, approval of China‘s permanent trade status was considered a slam-dunk. Since Seattle, it seems like a long shot.
“Seattle was a catalyst for empowering not only citizen activists on the issue of fair trade, but also those of us on the House floor working on the same issues,” says Ohio Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich, a firm Dolan ally. “Seattle energized us and transformed this whole issue. I think we now have the votes to block the deal. That means that citizen power has defeated tens of millions of dollars in corporate lobbying.”
Indeed, just a few weeks ago, the Clinton administration had to retool its entire strategy on this issue. Greatly accelerating its plans, Clinton put the China deal before the Senate, hoping that that more conservative body would approve it by June, thereby putting pressure on the reluctant House to do the same. But just two days later, the White House had to admit for the first time that, as of now, the votes in the House just aren’t there.
If Dolan‘s first step is to bottle up the China vote this spring, step two in his strategic plan is to kill it off in the summer. He frankly plans to make trade policy the rallying point for massive demonstrations around the August Democratic Convention in Los Angeles. And, coast to coast, activists are already licking their lips and booking their flights on the chance that L.A. will become this year’s Gettysburg in the war over trade and the global economy. “There‘ll be some protest against the Republicans, for sure,” Dolan says. “But we’re going to devote our real attention to the Democratic Convention. If there‘s going to be a change in trade policy, it’s going to be in the 107th Congress under the new Democratic Speaker, Dick Gephardt. So we have to out the Democrats on this issue. Since Seattle, Clinton and Gore have both been talking the talk of fair trade. Now it‘s time to make them walk the walk. This will be our chance to put the final nail in the China deal.”
The organizing in Los Angeles is still embryonic, and somewhat territorial. Lisa Fithian, a skilled former organizer from the L.A. County Federation of Labor, is pulling together a group that, in its initial stages at least, looks very much like a local incarnation of the Direct Action Network. Other groups, ranging from the Southern California Fair Trade Campaign, to the Hollywood Fair Trade Committee (activated to stop runaway production), to The Nation magazine, are all starting to sketch plans for alternative events and protests to unfold during convention week. (The L.A. Weekly will put out a daily paper during that period.)
Dolan is scheduled to start spending a lot more of his time in Los Angeles beginning the first week of April. And he vows that D2K, as the convention protest plans are being called, is going to reach out to even more diverse communities than in Seattle. He has already made contact with a network of South-Central clergy, and he’s confident that the week‘s agenda will include a massive multiracial convocation.
The 800-pound gorilla loafing in the middle of all these plans is local organized labor. So far, the County Fed is keeping mum regarding what it will or will not do during convention week. Labor is fervently committed to candidate Gore, but it’s just as committed to opposing his trade policies. “L.A. and national labor are going to watch these convention plans very carefully,” says a lead organizer for one of the city‘s most vibrant unions. “They are going to be measuring two factors. If by convention time they sense there’s a real movement in the street, and if they sense that Al Gore is safely enough in the lead, you might really see union guys protesting the Democrats. But even if those factors fail to materialize, I think we‘ll be doing something to make our voice heard on trade policy. It’s life and death for us.”