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(en) US, Portland, UNFINISHED BUSINESS* #2 - COALITIONS: Fighting For Democracy And To Win By Paul Pollack and Ella Powers

Date Fri, 12 Aug 2005 08:15:19 +0300

Working in coalition requires patience and a long
term commitment to an issue. Members of the
Northwest Anarchist Federation (NAF) work in coali-
tion on issues including anti-military recruitment,
police accountability, and school closures. Recently,
several NAF members, with the support of the
Portland collectives worked within a coalition to
defeat the Central America Free Trade Agreement
(CAFTA). The target of the campaign, as CAFTA
neared Congress was Congressman Earl
Blumenhauer, a democrat representing Oregon's 3rd
district. The goal of the campaign was to get Earl to
publicly oppose CAFTA, which he did on May 9,
2005. This article evaluates various aspects of this
successful campaign and adds pointers to inform
any future coalition work.
The Coalition
This coalition formed to stop CAFTA hailed commu-
nity, student, environmental and labor organizations.
CBLOC (Cross Border Labor Organizing Coalition) is
at the center of Anti-CAFTA work in Portland and
paid CBLOC staff organized the coalition. CBLOC is
a partnership of PJWJ (Portland Jobs with Justice)
and PCASC (Portland Central American Solidarity
Committee). The goal of the recent coalition work
was to convince Congressman Earl Blumenhaeur to
vote against CAFTA. The coalition formed at the end
of several years of Anti-CAFTA work by CBLOC. It
furthered this work with a massive postcard cam-
paign and a finale event on May 2nd that convinced
Earl Blumenhauer to vote against CAFTA.
The Groundwork
This coalition sprang from a solid base of several
years of CBLOC organizing to pair voices of resist-
ance in Central America and Mexico with their local
counterparts. This occurred through mobilizations,
forums and education in unions and other communi-
ty groups. Tours of workers from El Salvador and
Mexico were important to
draw comparisons between
NAFTA, The North American
Free Trade Agreement, and
the proposed CAFTA.
CBLOC also organized ongo-
ing delegations of
Portlanders to El
Salvador and Mexico that
educated and motivated
activists to keep the cam-
paign moving. Effective
groundwork provided the
base from which a healthy coalition grew.
May 2nd
A public "Forum on Trade and Globalization,"
organized by Blumenhauer and Senator Gordon
Smith (R-OR), was held (inconveniently for most
working people) on a Monday May 2 at 9a.m. at The
University of Portland. The Blumenhauer\ Smith
forum included representatives from: Nike, Intel,
Impresa, Port of Portland, the AFL-CIO (Washington,
DC), the Hood River Growers Association, and
Mercy Corp. The coalition organized a lively rally out-
side and before the forum, with speakers opposing
CAFTA. Mobilization tactics included e-mails, post-
card mailings, union outreach, radio appearances
and announcements at public events. Despite the
bad location and time, approximately 250 people
attended the rally and forum. This number comprised
about 95% of all forum attendees. (It seems that the
capitalists can't get their friends to things like these,
unless they pay them.) Though some unions didn't
turnout on May 2nd, they contributed in other ways,
such as having their members send postcards to
Blumenhauer urging him to vote "no". AFSCME and
the UFCW 555 were example of this.
The forum was the turning point for Blumenhauer,
and exactly one week after the rally, he announced
that he would vote against CAFTA. This is the first
time he has opposed a free trade agreement. We
know it was a hard choice for him.
Organizing for May 2nd
Though the AFL wanted to focus exclusively on
Oregon job loss due to CAFTA, CBLOC maintained
that there should be speakers from under represent-
ed groups participating in the Rally. CBLOC
remained flexible concerning who the speakers
were, but played a major role in sculpting the final
program. Madeline Elder, President of CWA Local
7901, a long term supporter of anti-globalization
work, and an out lesbian, MC'd the event. Mary
Mendez, from Enlace, which fights for worker rights
in Mexico and the US, represented Mexican and
Central American workers. Three workers from a
recently closed sugar beet plant in Nyssa, Oregon,
drove six hours to speak and be present at the rally.
Their presence was organized by the Oregon Fair
Trade Coalition.
Unions representing workers potentially affected by
the job/wage loss due to "free trade" also participat-
ed. Leal Sundit of ILWU Local 8 read names of
Oregon plant closures where certified job loss result-
ed from free trade. Tim Nesbitt, President of the
Oregon AFL-CIO also spoke, explaining that Oregon
lost over 30,000 jobs since NAFTA was passed in
1993. Through CBLOC's insistence the people
directly affected and underrepresented people were
given a chance to speak against CAFTA.
The Tight Rope
Originally, the AFL resisted attempts for a unified
May 2 pre-forum rally, noting that they served as
consultants to the Congressman as to who would
speak from the forum stage. According to what they
understood at the time, they too had a slot on stage.
The AFL argued that it would look bad for them to
participate in a protest outside an event that they
were ostensibly "co-sponsoring." Some Oregon AFL
Trade Committee members voiced opposition to the
proposed anti-CAFTA rally in an April planning
meeting, who claimed that it was being penned by
radicals who were working union members into a
frenzy that could prove dangerous for the union's
CBLOC reps at one point had to quell this myth by
re-stating the rally idea and calmly re-framing it with-
in the larger anti-CAFTA work. When the plan was
fully explained by CBLOC and PJWJ staff, the AFL
approved it. It was explained that the pre-forum rally
was not set up as an attack on a particular
Congressman per se, but rather to express CAFTA
opposition, and that we wanted our representatives
to vote "NO". CBLOC worked arduously to quell
doubts and claimed responsibility for the planning
that had been done heretofore. No decision was
made at that moment, but
tensions relaxed.
The AFL could have decid-
ed not to participate, espe-
cially if the key players had
turned off to the rally idea.
PJWJ and CBLOC tried to
spin everything positively and
not burn bridges with poten-
tial allies.
Finding the Weak Spot
The fact that Blumenhauer's
staff aren't event organizers
worked in the coalition's favor. They upset people
with their ineptness. For example, they alienated the
Sierra Club by inviting them to speak on the forum
and then bumping them from the speaking event.
This was not a political snub, but they made promis-
es they forgot about. They invited Tim Nesbitt and
Thea Lee (both from the AFL), but only let one of
them speak. So, Blumenhauer's staff inadvertently
contributed to the coalition's success by alienating
coalition partners.
Out of Control
The exuberance of some anti-CAFTA students at
the forum tested labor's trust in the coalition. At dif-
ferent times, two groups of students held banners.
Students chanted and held a "Junk CAFTA: Just Do
It" (in the form of a Nike swoosh) when the Nike rep-
resentative spoke, and then again at the end when
Smith left the room. Rep. Blumenhauer used this as
an pretext to leave right when public commentary
had just begun. (There were 30 or more people lined
up to speak, and after two hours of listening to busi-
ness people stating the benefits of CAFTA, people
were outraged by Blumenhauer's lack of interest in
what his constituents had to say. Some in the union
leadership felt the banner drops were unexpected
and a breech in trust. For example,
an organization outside the coalition
had planned to throw pies at the
politicians, but decided not to
because of University of Portland
Rank and File Participation
The work of rank and file union
members played a major role in the
outcome of the rally. Thanks to the
persistence of members of ILWU
local 8, there was a school bus with
30 longshoreman that showed up for
the event. Their support of the rally
also influenced
Tim Nesbitt's decision to participate.
The AFL had to respect local 8's
decision to participate in this way. If
4 or 5 unions had done something
similar, it would have been even stronger. That's
something to work toward in the future; committed
rank and file that can do the work to convince their
union to commit to an action like this. Making sure to
get educational speaking appointments, not only in
executive boards, but in general assemblies of
unions should contribute to rank and file ownership.
In the U.S. there are many challenges when work-
ing in coalition. One flaw is that the funding structure
for grants discourages collaboration. Grantees pre-
sume that funding goes to one organization "in
charge" of a particular issue. Another problem is that
organizations are individualistic and tend to look like
the people in front of them. Our society doesn't tend
to work collaboratively. This approach can be altered
by training and encouraging more individuals to rep-
resent an organization, building multifaceted leader-
CAFTA has not been a major news event in the cor-
porate media. The extensive coverage on non-cor-
porate media included: KBOO, The Portland
Alliance, Firebrand, and Cable Access. The commit-
tee from CBLOC and the AFL that worked on media
for May 2nd used a strategy of creating signs that
were similar for people to hold at the rally, so that it
would be impossible for reporters to loose the mes-
sage. The focus was that worker's oppose free trade.
This was the AFL's idea and CBLOC did not push for
a more radical message. Thirty signs were designed
by CBLOC activists. The Oregonian ran an article
titled, "Workers urge rejection of free-trade pact",
and this was exactly what was wanted.
Was this a Coalition?
Often there are people who are part of a coalition,
but have to be courted because of their influence or
power. That's why there were two layers to this coali-
tion. An inner circle of staff people and rank and file
activists from labor unions, PJWJ, CBLOC, and The
Oregon Fair Trade Coalition did most of the strate-
gic planning for the May 2nd event. Tim Nesbitt,
President of the Oregon AFL did not attend coalition
meetings, but was a major player in organizing May
2nd. This "inner layer" of the coalition existed outside
the regular coalition meetings. The coalition mem-
bers that attended the meetings were primarily rank
and file labor activists, students and representatives
from various community groups. Considering the
divisions of authority in the planning of the May 2nd
event, it is wrong to characterize this coalition as a
democratic decision making body.
Base Building
This coalition expanded the number and expertise
of the people working to stop CAFTA in Oregon.
Many unions had given money for program work at
CBLOC, but had not been actively engaged in
actions before May 2nd. Student groups from PSU
(Portland State University), Reed College, and Lewis
and Clark College took on leadership, and some
have become key volunteers in CBLOC. The Oregon
Fair Trade Coalition was a constant participant, and
CBLOC will continue to work closely with this organ-
ization. Groups that had never worked together
before formed new alliances.

The Future
Unions see that their membership
want to fight against free trade, and this
is the democratic reaction that is build-
ing upon itself. This Anti-CAFTA
Coalition, despite a glaring need for
internal democracy and mass participa-
tion, does carry a strength and energy
that can be generated through careful,
long term organizing. CAFTA passed
by two votes on July 27th. CBLOC is
now focusing on "next steps", starting
with a speaking tour form El Salvador
on Aug. 12th.
Ella Powers is a member of the
Firebrand Collective, a member collec-
tive of the Northwest Anarchist
* Unfinished Buisness: Agitational publication of the
U..B.. B U P.o. Box 112 Portland, O R 97232

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