We received news last week of the death of Fred Hirsch ((Nov. 11, 1933 – Dec.15, 2020), a true working class hero. Fred was a giant in the struggle for all human rights, especially labor rights, and a true internationalist. He was Vice President of the Plumber & Pipefitters Local 393 of Santa Clara and San Benito Counties in California. His activism was always rooted in his being a worker and a union member.
Fred had a significant and continuing impact on us at the Alliance for Global Justice. He was a founder of our Worker to Worker Solidarity Committee. He not only proposed its name, but the two points of its mission: to end US labor’s dependency on government funding and oversight of its international relations; and to develop a new model of direct, worker to worker solidarity.
We first met Fred Hirsch in 2004. He had co-authored the Unity and Trust among Workers Worldwide resolution that was being brought to the 2005 AFLCIO convention. The resolution was passed unanimously by the entire California Labor Federation. It called for the Solidarity Center to open its books on its activities, and to ween itself off the more than 90% funding of its activities by the US State Department. The resolution had been written after it was revealed that the Solidarity Center had funneled money to coup plotters in Venezuela in 2002, and that it had undermined support for Haiti’s elected government during the US-directed coup of 2004. We reached out to Fred and other union activists about organizing a campaign for the resolution, resulting in the formation of the Worker to Worker Solidarity Committee. Unfortunately, the resolution did not pass. But we were successful in getting our message out widely and laying the groundwork for a series of subsequent victories as we continue toward our ultimate goals.
The Unity and Trust resolution was, itself, just one more step for Fred in a long legacy of international and, especially, Latin America solidarity. He spoke out in 1973 against AFLCIO support for the coup against Salvador Allende in Chile. The next year he released the booklet An Analysis of Our AFL-CIO Role in Latin America or Under the Covers with the CIA. That publication was a turning point leading to the dissolution of the old system of international labor institutes that were notorious fronts for the CIA.
Fred very much loved the Colombian people, and he helped us start our own Colombia solidarity work. In 2008, we began a relationship with FENSUAGRO (National Federation of United Agricultural Workers Unions). FENSUAGRO is the most persecuted labor organization in Colombia, the world’s most dangerous country to be a union organizer. For years, they had no ongoing links with US labor. Fred helped change that. On different occasions when FENSUAGRO union leaders were under threat, he secured resolutions of solidarity from the South Bay Labor Federation and the entire California Labor Federation. He helped us organize the first US tour by FENSUAGRO, when the organization’s General Secretary, Nidia Quintero, came to the Bay Area.
Despite his criticisms of AFLCIO foreign relations, he was always respected by unionists from the rank and file to the highest levels of national leadership. Once we asked Fred how it was that he could speak out so openly with his criticisms yet still be so warmly received. He responded, “When you’re out there walking every picket line, going to union meetings, showing up for your sisters and brothers and letting them know you have their backs, then you earn the right to criticize and be heard.
Wherever he was, Fred was always on the side of working people. We will miss him, but we also know that we continue down a road of struggle that he helped pave and that will be traveled by generations of workers to come.
Truly, we can all say: Fred Hirsch, Presente!