Taking on John Sweeney's McCarthyesque Imposition
12 June 03
MORTON ALEXANDER SPEAKS softly. He fusses with his glasses and new
hearing aids. A program manager with the Washington Department of Social
and Health Services, he handles activities that support child social
work, such as issuing clearances for volunteers and arranging the
holiday gift program.
He's taking on John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, the nation's
largest labor organization.
Next week, Alexander will be in Washington, D.C., to meet with the
executive board of the American Federation of State, County and
Municipal Employees. On behalf of the Washington Federation of State
Employees, he will be asking the board to adopt a resolution seeking
elimination of language added to the AFL-CIO national constitution in 1997.
The specific wording is: "No individual shall be eligible to serve as an
officer, member of the executive board or committee or other governing
body of, or any other committee of, or as a delegate from, or as a
representative, agent or employee of any state central body who
consistently pursues policies and activities directed toward the
achievement of the program or purposes of authoritarianism,
totalitarianism, terrorism and other forces that suppress individual
liberties and freedom of association."
The language amended an earlier version that exorcised communists and
The AFL-CIO international headquartered in Washington, D.C., in 2000
asked the state labor councils to incorporate the wording into their
constitutions. At its convention that year, the Washington council balked.
"It was almost McCarthyesque, some of the stuff that was in it," says
council spokesman David Groves, referring to the Wisconsin senator who
in the early 1950s held anti-communist hearings infamous for witness
abuse and intimidation.
Other states objected, he says, but "I can't recall any other state made
the stink about it we did."
Stink or not, Alexander says, Sweeney had the last word. He ordered the
language be written into the state constitutions.
The Washington council, having been overruled by Sweeney, last year in
Spokane adopted a resolution calling for individual unions to work the
issue up through their own organizations to executive boards and
national conventions that could put pressure on the AFL-CIO to eliminate
or redraft the amended language.
Enter Alexander, who says he was unaware of the fracas over the
constitution wording until he attended the Spokane convention.
"The people in unions think of unions as actively defending our rights,"
Alexander says. Prohibitions like those written into the AFL-CIO
constitution "are pre-emptive strikes domestically against all
expressions of dissent."
Next week, he counterattacks. If Alexander can convince the AFSCME
executive board the controversial amendment is misguided, board member
and AFSCME union president McEntee can take the message directly to the
AFL-CIO board, and Sweeney.
Alexander finds some irony in what he says is the authoritarian way
state labor councils were forced to adopt language barring supporters of
authoritarianism from holding positions with state unions.
The state labor council called the wording anti-democratic, and members
note that the standards would have banned union activists like Mother
Jones and Cesar Chavez.
Alexander says he does not know what to expect in Washington. Instead of
forwarding the resolution to the AFL-CIO board, the AFSCME executives
could hold it for submission to the next union's national convention, or
reject it outright. A move to put the matter before the 2002 AFSCME
convention was withdrawn because of still-raw sensitivities lingering
from the 9/11 attacks.
The resolute Alexander says it's time to press forward. "I'm a
troublemaker," he says.