Campaign 2016: FED Adds Opposition to Xenophobia to Campaign Issues

WASHINGTON—Add yet another cause – standing up against racist xenophobia – to the issues the AFL-CIO is emphasizing on the campaign trail.

So says federation Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre, himself a political refugee. At age 15, fleeing war-torn Ethiopia, Gebre walked across – and was aided by residents of – majority-Muslim Sudan on his way to transportation to the U.S.

Gebre outlined the fed’s role during a Sept. 29 telephone press conference, called by progressive groups to publicize an open letter from more than 500 elected officials nationwide, who pledge to stand up against the xenophobia and hate unleashed in this year’s campaign.

The letter does not specifically name Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, though the business mogul makes anti-Muslim screeds a cornerstone of his White House drive. As one participant noted, anti-Islamic prejudices occur among officials of both parties, and pre-dated Trump’s rise.

The letter pledges elected officials to work for anti-hate resolutions locally and to advance the campaign against such hatred and prejudice beyond the election and into 2017. Still, Trump is the top problem the anti-hate campaigners encounter, because “at the top of the (GOP) ticket, you have someone legitimizing and normalizing hate,” Gebre said.

Signers range from local mayors of Tallahassee, Fla., and Garden Grove, Calif., on up to Reps. Andre Carson, D-Ind., and Keith Ellison, D-Minn., Congress’ sole Muslims.

“It has been a difficult year, being a refugee, a black man and a labor leader,” mused Gebre, former top organizer for the Orange County, Calif., labor federation. “We’re being attacked at every angle.”

But being attacked for one’s faith is particularly damaging, to both workers and democracy, he declared. And “that’s why the American labor movement is standing up against racism and xenophobia 100 percent.”

To specifically combat the anti-Islamic hatred unionists encounter on the hustings, the federation is generating millions of phone calls and tens of thousands of activist engagements to discuss the issue with its members, their families, friends and allies. The most-effective tactic will be “worker-to-worker visits at the workplace,” said Gebre.

“We’re doing everything we can do to make sure young people, black people and Latino people show up” at the polls this fall, he stated, while providing no specific figures on activism.

The worst thing that could happen, Gebre warned, is that such prejudices “seep into the workplace.” Court rulings and federal findings bear that statement out, with instances of prejudice ranging from Abercrombie & Fitch refusing a job to an Islamic woman because she wore a hijab, to religious discrimination uncovered by the federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. The EEOC enforces civil rights laws.

Source: PAI