Two of the largest unions in the AFL-CIO are expected to withdraw from the labor federation today in one of the largest shakeups in the history of the American labor movement. The move comes as the AFL-CIO is marking its 50th anniversary at a major convention in Chicago. Over the weekend, four unions announced they would boycott the convention to protest the direction of the federation. Later today, two of these unions — the Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union — are expected to announce they are leaving the federation altogether. Two other unions — United Food and Commercial Workers and UNITE HERE — are also on the verge of leaving. These four dissident unions represent nearly one-third of the AFL-CIO’s 13 million members. They have launched a new organization called the Change to Win Coalition. Anna Burger, chairman of the new coalition said Sunday “Our differences have become unresolvable. Today will be remembered as a rebirth of union strength in America.” The dissident unions had long criticized AFL-CIO President John Sweeney for not investing enough in grassroots organizing. However backers of Sweeney have warned that the dissident labor groups are playing into the hands of opponents of organized labor. Sweeney said, “Common sense tells us that a union movement divided against itself risks losing the fight for workers’ rights.”
In Egypt, police are searching for at least nine Pakistani nationals in connection with Saturday’s bombings that left up to 88 people dead including nine tourists. Police there detained more than 90 people. The blasts — which marked the deadliest bombing in Egypt’s history — hit the resort area of Sharm al-Sheikh.
In Britain, police are searching for four men who are suspected of trying to set off bombs last week in the London Underground and aboard a double-decker bus. Over the weekend Scotland Yard released images captured by surveillance cameras of the suspected would-be bombers. Investigators believe they have uncovered evidence that links the four fugitives to the suicide bombers who carried out the July 7th bombings.
In addition, British police have admitted they shot dead an innocent man inside a London subway car on Friday during its hunt for suspects. Jean Charles de Menezes, a 27-year-old Brazilian born electrician, was shot five times in the head by undercover police officers. Initially police maintained Menezes was connected to the bombings but later admitted it was all a mistake. Despite the killing, a shoot-to-kill policy is still in effect in Britain. “We have to consider what would have happened if the officers had not shot and that man had been a suicide bomber and had got on the tube and the officers closed and the officers taken the wrong decision. That would have been absolutely dreadful,” said Metropolitan Police Commissioner Ian Blair.
The Brazilian’s man family has said they might now sue the British police. Brazil’s foreign minister Celso Amorim also criticized the shooting. “The sense of the reaction in Brazil is the one I gave already; it’s shock and perplexity that an innocent person should be caught in fight against terrorism,” said Amorim. “Of course as I said we support the fight against terrorism but I think even there you have to be cautious not to take away innocent lives.”
Meanwhile in Iraq a suicide truck bombing killed 40 people outside a Baghdad police station on Sunday. Over two dozen people were also wounded. Eight more people died this morning in Baghdad in a pair of suicide attacks. One of the bombings targeted a hotel in central Baghdad used by foreign security personnel. 30 American contractors were reported to be wounded.
Now on to the battle over John Roberts. Last week President Bush nominated the federal judge to sit on the Supreme Court. Over the weekend the Bush administration announced it will refuse to hand over some documents written by Roberts while he worked as an attorney for the White House and Justice Department. The White House said a full release of the documents would violate lawyer-client privilege. Senator Patrick Leahy — the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee — described the move as a “total red herring.” Leahy said Chief Justice William Rehnquist, former Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork and former Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III had given up documents written while they worked for the Justice Department.
The Washington Post is reporting it has uncovered evidence that John Roberts was in fact a member of the Federalist Society — an influential conservative legal group. Until now the White House had maintained that Roberts was never a member of the group, which keeps its membership secret. Last week the White House successfully got several news organizations including the Post to retract reports that Roberts was a member. But now, the Washington Post reports that Roberts’ name appears in the legal organization’s 1997-1998 leadership directory.
The Defense Department is refusing to cooperate with a judicial order to release photographs and videos taken by the military at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. In June, a federal judge ordered the Pentagon to hand over 87 photos and four videotapes to the American Civil Liberties Union because the group had filed a Freedom Of Information Act. Bush administration attorneys have said that the release of the photos would violate the Geneva Conventions by subjecting detainees to additional humiliation or embarrassment. The photos are expected to show widespread torture of Iraqi detainees and even incidents where Iraqis were raped and murdered inside the U.S. run jail. Last year Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, “There are other photos that depict incidents of physical violence towards prisoners, acts that can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel and inhumane — it’s going to get a good deal more terrible, I’m afraid.”
Meanwhile the Washington Post reports the Bush administration is lobbying to block legislation supported by Republican senators to regulate the treatment of detainees held overseas. The bill would bar the U.S. military from engaging in “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” of detainees, from hiding prisoners from the Red Cross, and from using interrogation methods not authorized by a new Army field manual. According to the paper, Vice President Dick Cheney met last week with three senior Republican members of the Senate Armed Services Committee to press the administration’s case that legislation on these matters would usurp the president’s authority. One White House official said the bill would interfere with the president’s ability to ” protect Americans effectively from terrorist attack.”
The National Labor Committee is back in the news again. The New York-based labor rights watchdog made international headlines in 1997 when it revealed that clothing lines run by Kathie Lee Gifford used sweatshop labor. Now the organization claims it has evidence that sweatshop workers in Honduras are making popular athletic apparel for Reebok bearing the names of professional basketball and football stars. On Friday, the group’s executive director Charlie Kernaghan led a protest outside the NBA shop on Fifth Avenue in New York City.
In media news — the Venezuelan government officially launched Telesur — a new Latin American satellite TV station. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has said the station will give South America a voice independent of traditional media conglomerates like CNN. At a launch ceremony on Sunday Chavez said “This is part of an awakening of our peoples.” The station is being launched with help from other Latin American governments including Argentina, Cuba and Uruguay. Board members include a group of international supporters including the actor Danny Glover, the writer Tariq Ali and Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel. The new station is not being well-received in Washington. Last week the U.S. House passed an amendment calling for the U.S. to begin broadcasting its own channel into the region to counter Telesur. Republican Congressman Connie Mack of Florida said the U.S. government should “initiate radio and television broadcasts that will provide a consistently accurate, objective, and comprehensive source of news to Venezuela.” Mack said this is needed to counter what he described as Telesur’s “anti-Americanism.”
Cities throughout the West and Midwest are still suffering from record high temperatures. In Phoenix at least 21 people have died because of the high heat. Hardest hit have been the city’s homeless population. Three more people have died in Chicago — where the temperature hit 104 yesterday, just shy of the city’s all-time record. Over the past week 200 cities and towns in the West have set daily record highs. In Denver, the thermometer hit 105 degrees Wednesday tying it for the hottest day ever in the city.