Tim Costello, 1945-2009

Tim Costello, an architect of innovative strategies for the labor movement and the author of numerous articles and books on labor and globalization, died at home on December 4, 2009 of pancreatic cancer.

Costello was born in Boston on June 13, 1945 to Thomas and Claire (MacPhee) Costello and raised in Dedham, Massachusetts. As a teenager he worked with his father as a construction laborer and learned from him the value of worker organization, often typing the correspondence of the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen, the union for which his father served as president for many years.

As a young man, Costello went to work as a fuel oil delivery driver and became active in the Teamster’s union and the union reform movement. Always an avid reader and writer, he set up an office in the back of his truck where he spent many hours in self-education. He also studied at Goddard College in Vermont, the New School in New York, and the University of Massachusetts-Boston, from which he graduated. He gradually came to be recognized in the Boston area as an unusual combination of worker and intellectual. In his book Taking History to Heart, James Green described Costello as "Cosmic" Tim, who "seemed to have trucked everywhere and read everything."

In 1973, Costello took a research trip across the country studying the impact of that recession on young workers. The result was the book Common Sense for Hard Times co-authored with labor historian Jeremy Brecher. Costello and Brecher continued as collaborators for the next 40 years.

Costello’s lifelong work in the labor movement included work as a union representative for Local 285 of the Service Employees International Union, as well as positions with the Commonwealth Institute and Campaign for Contingent Work. He became convinced of the importance of labor cooperation with other social movements and edited, with Brecher, Building Bridges: The Emerging Coalition of Labor and Community.

In the 1990s, Costello became acutely aware of the growth of contingent work and the elimination of secure jobs that had been the mainstay of working class lives and communities. In response he helped organize and served as coordinator of the North American Alliance for Fair Employment, a network of 65 unions and community-based organizations in the U.S. and Canada, including groups as diverse as college teachers and day laborers.

Costello also became increasingly concerned with the impact of globalization on workers and the labor movement. He authored two books on the subject, Global Village or Global Pillage? with Brecher and Globalization from Below with Brecher and Brendan Smith, a policy analyst and labor activist. He also co-produced the Emmy-nominated documentary Global Village or Global Pillage?

In 2005, Costello left the North American Alliance for Fair Employment to found the international network-building organization Global Labor Strategies, which he ran in collaboration with Brecher and Smith. He travelled extensively to Europe, Latin America, India, and China, helping link labor movements and their allies to better address the problems they faced in a globalizing economy.

Long a committed environmentalist, Costello was a founder of the organization Save Open Spaces on Cape Ann, where he lived for many years and worked intermittently. In 2009, he helped found the Labor Network for Sustainability.

A lifelong resident of the Boston area, Costello was a well-known figure in the Boston labor movement, including not only the Teamsters and Service Employees, but also with Jobs with Justice, the Harvard Trade Union Program, and the College of Public and Community Service at the University of Massachusetts at Boston.



Memorial culled from Global Labor Strategies and other websites.