Tim Costello, Trucker-Author Who Fought Globalization, Dies at 64


(December 26, 2009)Tim Costello, a truck driver who became a labor advocate and theorist, the co-author of four books and the founder of an organization that fought globalization, died Dec. 4 at his home in Cambridge, Mass. He was 64.

 

The cause was pancreatic cancer, said his brother, Sean.

 

Mr. Costello was hailed by many academics and labor advocates as a bona fide worker-intellectual. A genial, mustached native of Boston, he drove fuel-delivery trucks, worked as a lobsterman, founded a group that battled against the fast-growing use of temporary workers and developed close links with labor advocates in China, Italy and Mexico.

 

His most notable book was “Globalization From Below: The Power of Solidarity” (2000), written with Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith, which became a primer for labor advocates who argued that globalization was destroying jobs and reducing wages in the United States while exploiting workers in Asia. During his two decades driving trucks — he was also a long-haul driver — Mr. Costello often used the back of his truck as a private study to read and write.

 

Mr. Costello was often several steps ahead of the rest of the labor movement. In 2005, he helped found Global Labor Strategies, which fostered cross-border alliances to fight to improve wages and working conditions in the face of downward pressures from companies moving jobs overseas. In 2007, when American and European business groups were battling China’s plans to adopt a law strengthening workers’ rights, Mr. Costello was a leading voice in countering corporate efforts to block the law.

 

“We called him Cosmic Tim because he seemed to be everywhere in the universe,” said James Green, a labor historian at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, who was a friend and professor of Mr. Costello. “He seemed to have trucked everywhere and read everything.”

 

Timothy Mark Costello was born in Boston on June 13, 1945. His father was the president of a union local that represented railway car welders. He was raised in Dedham, Mass., and graduated from the Huntington School for Boys in Boston in 1964. He attended Goddard College in Vermont before transferring to Franconia College in New Hampshire and the New School in New York, where he joined Students for a Democratic Society.

 

While in school in New York, he began driving oil trucks. In 1971, he moved back to Boston, without having finished college, and continued driving fuel-delivery trucks and, as he had in New York, writing and speaking out against corruption in the Teamsters union.

 

In the mid-1970s he traveled cross-country to study the recession’s effects on young workers, producing a book, “Common Sense for Hard Times,” with Mr. Brecher, his longtime co-author.

 

While in Boston, he switched trucking jobs to become a long-haul driver, often carrying loads to the Deep South and the Midwest. He enrolled at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, obtaining his bachelor’s degree there in 1990. He became a business agent for Local 285 of the Service Employees International Union, which represented hospital workers and janitors.

 

In 1999, he founded the Campaign on Contingent Work, which evolved into another organization he helped found, the North American Alliance for Fair Employment, a grouping of 65 organizations that opposed the growing use of temporary workers, who rarely had job security, health insurance or pensions.

 

With Mr. Brecher, he also wrote “Building Bridges: The Emerging Grassroots Coalition of Labor and Community” (1990) and “Global Village or Global Pillage: Economic Reconstruction From the Bottom Up” (1994).

 

In addition to his brother, Sean, of Belmont, Mass., he is survived by his wife, Susanne Rasmussen; his daughters Pia, of Cambridge, and Gillian, of Brooklyn; and two grandchildren.

 

Mr. Costello was low-key, his brother said, but he was forever battling for one cause or another. “He thought that if you’re on the left,” Sean Costello said, “you’ll be working at it for the rest of your life, and you may not be successful, but it would be worth the effort.”

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