Stewart Acuff

Mar 6

Our Values

One Saturday just after I became Organizing Director at the National AFLCIO and before Blackberrys, I brought my children to my office so they could play, hang out with the old man, and I could catch up on some computer correspondence.

Not long after that, I overheard a conversation between my son and one of his buddies who asked my son what I did for work. To my shock and horror, my son said I worked on computers. Not only was I an IT disaster, but computers made me very uncomfortable.

I began immediately to try to explain to a 2 year old and a 4 year old what dad’s job was.

After thinking about it, I realized that my children were learning about values – and that human values interest me as much as anything. I believe that one of the reasons Che Guevara was and is held in such respect in so many places is his famous quote,”The true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.”

So I started to explain to my kids that my life’s work was trying to get fairness for grownups on the job, fairness for kids in poverty, and fairness for our elders and our planet.

Soon the war in Iraq gave me an easy way to talk about peace and the horrors of war. We soon got to respect and compassion for all people and a rejection of all discrimination. We’re not finished yet, but my children can articulate these values extremely well.

And so I believe it is time that we in the labor movement re-articulate our values and the actions that come out of those values.

– First we believe in the inherent dignity of every human being. We believe every human should be treated with dignity.

– We believe we have a right to our share of the wealth our work creates.

– We believe we have a right to the work and the job we perform.

– We believe in the right of every human to free speech, free association, and free thought.

– We believe that we have a right and a responsibility to join our efforts with others toward a common good.

– We believe that every worker has a right to organize and bargain collectively.

– We believe that there is no OTHER – that all who possess a heart and a soul have a right to be free from any discrimination and should enjoy the right to go as far as their talents and passions take them.

– We believe that there is a class struggle – and that we have been victimized by it.

– We believe in non-violent direct action to animate these values.

– We believe we must leave our kids a healthier, cleaner planet and sustainable energy.

– We believe that every society is better when it takes care of those who can’t care for themselves.

– We believe that values are the foundation of any society’s goals, politics, and the norms of how members of that society treat one another – and other societies.

– We believe in the common good and common ground – and that people of good will guided by their consciences or the “still small voices” in their hearts can define that common good and common ground and reach it.


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Stewart Acuff is the former organizing Director of the AFL-CIO. Acuff has also written two books: Playing Bigger Than You Are: A Life in Organizing, and Getting America Back to Work.

Playing Bigger Than You Are - A Life in OrganizingGet the e-book edition of Playing Bigger Than You Are by clicking here!

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