A16: Sweeney Crosses the Rubicon, and a New Movement Takes Its First Steps

Robert Naiman


a participant in the planning for the April 16-17 mobilizations against the

International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, I have this to say about all the

hype around the April demonstrations and the "new movement for global

economic and social justice": the hype is entirely justified. Occasionally

in this life one is blessed to observe and participate in truly historic events.

The decision by the AFL-CIO, the Steelworkers, other major unions and Jobs with

Justice to participate in mass demonstrations attacking the destructive colonial

power of the IMF and the Bank marks a decisive turning point. The participation

of Rich Trumka of the AFL and George Becker of the Steelworkers gives the events

a completely different, more powerful political character. The AFL-CIO is being

swept forward by the social forces that organized labor itself did so much to

set in motion. Nothing will ever be the same.


that a mere two years ago, the AFL-CIO backed the Administration’s request for

$18 billion in new funding for the International Monetary Fund – a 50% increase

in the IMF’s resources, at a time when the IMF was under unprecedented political

attack, and when opposition to the Administration’s request for more money was a

predominant vehicle for that attack. By supporting the Administration’s request,

the AFL provided key liberal political cover for the IMF and the Clinton

Administration. They saved the IMF and the agenda of the US Treasury Department.


now we can see that as a mere stumble on the long march of organized labor to a

leadership position in a new movement for global economic justice. As a Jobs

with Justice activist put it: "After Seattle, everyone knows that the World

Trade Organization is bad. After the demonstrations in Washington, everyone will

know that the IMF and the Bank are bad. It will be very hard for the AFL to

justify supporting giving these bad institutions more money." And this next

stage in the evolution of the AFL-CIO was made possible by the involvement of

rank and file unionists and students with good relationships with organized

labor in the Mobilization.


more is true. It is increasingly apparent that some of the top people at the

AFL, including most especially John Sweeney himself, fervently believe in what

they are doing. At the Jubilee 2000 USA demonstration last Sunday, Sweeney gave

the best speech of the American speakers. Unlike the leaders of Jubilee 2000

USA, who refuse to discuss the role of the IMF, the World Bank, and U.S.

Treasury in imposing anti-worker "structural adjustment" economic

policies as part of the "debt relief" program currently before the

U.S. Congress, Sweeney vigorously attacked the policies of the IMF and the World

Bank, and their role in driving the global "race to the bottom" in

living standards. He explicitly linked the destructive impacts of the IMF and

the Bank in developing countries to declining living standards in the United



significance of such statements from the head of the AFL-CIO cannot be

overestimated. The IMF and the World Bank are the most destructive institutions

in the world today. But unlike the WTO, they have no direct impact on working

people in the United States. The strong opposition of the AFL-CIO to anti-worker

"free trade" agreements, under strong pressure from the industrial

unions that are being decimated by globalization, was already a big step

forward. But organized labor opposition to the IMF and the Bank is a huge leap



that in the 1980′s, many of us organizing against U.S. military interventions in

Latin America and elsewhere tried to make the case that U.S. foreign policy was

not in the economic interest of the majority of people in the U.S. Now we have

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney saying what we were saying in the 1980s: that

U.S. foreign economic and military policy is hurting workers abroad and workers

at home.


Mobilization for Global Justice has also been a learning experience for

non-labor groups. Many who were skeptical at first of the AFL’s focus on the

U.S.-China trade deal have come to see its importance. The AFL-CIO position is

the progressive one: approval of the U.S.-China trade deal would be bad for

workers in the U.S. and bad for workers in China. But it is also the

strategically correct one – given the ironclad commitment of big business and

their Republican and Democratic allies to the agenda of removing any

restrictions on the flow of capital, nothing less than vigorous opposition to

bad trade deals will have any impact.


Mobilization has also been a learning experience of respectfulness about

diversity of tactics. During and after Seattle, there was a fair bit of

recrimination about window-smashing and other property destruction and whether

it was morally reprehensible or politically counterproductive. Within the

current Mobilization, however, there has been a respectful dialogue about

different tactics among different camps. This led to the creation of a legally

permitted demonstration, designed to facilitate the participation of organized

labor, community people, and other groups not willing or able to risk

confrontation with the police or association with militant tactics in the

context of this particular action. It also led to a real dialogue with anarchist

groups supportive of property destruction, not based on dogma, moral

condemnation, or marginalization but a real dialogue based on shared values of

political effectiveness and not undermining the political work of others; and

even though property destruction is outside of the action guidelines for the

Mobilization, we expect that if property destruction does take place in

Washington, it will have a different political character than it did in Seattle.


have already won major victories in building and sustaining our movement and

delegitimizing the policies and funding of the International Monetary Fund and

the World Bank. The boycott of World Bank bonds has been launched (www.worldbankboycott.org),

and many other political initiatives have begun (see www.a16.org).


of course, the more people come, the more history we will make. If you are

reading this on April 13, there is still time for you to come. Join us. Make

history. Come to Washington and help shut down the meetings of the IMF and the

World Bank; or join us for the most massive legal demonstration against the IMF

and the World Bank that has ever taken place in the U.S.; or both. Be able to

tell the story of how you were there when students, environmentalists, trade

unionists, and anarchists made history and took on the most powerful

institutions in the world.