Tim Costello: Labor Activist Extraordinaire!

Citizen Wealth Community Organizations International International Labor Organizing

6a00d8341c3c7453ef01287623b8c8970cNew Orleans A week ago I was in Boston.  Knowing I would be in Cambridge at the Harvard Coop, I sent an email to my friend and colleague, Tim Costello, suggesting he come over if he had a minute and visit and pick up a book.  The weather was miserably cold and wet, so I figured he had stayed home wisely and thought no more of it.  I had visited with Tim at some length in February of this year.  He had met me at Tufts after a meeting, we had lunch and he had to drop off a lunch his youngest daughter had forgotten.

We talked about a way that we could do some joint work with our research team in Florida, our organizers in India, and all of the good relationships Tim felt had been made in China with Global Strategies.  Money was an issue.  Money always seems to be an issue, but Tim and his partners were undaunted and committed to their vision, and in Tim’s case, endlessly enthusiastic and optimistic about the impact of the work.

Tim was old school, and it was not old school meaning a couple of three or four decades ago.  Tim harkened back to the times more than 100 years ago when there were shop floor and rank-and-file intellectuals who lived and breathed as labor activists and self-made labor intellectuals.  Tim’s story was an old story of driving trucks in and around Boston as a Teamster.  The values didn’t change.  He talked about the times in between the projects, contracts, and grants when some of the team would paint houses and others would work as fishermen or pick up lobsters.  He talked about how hard it was getting, but there were no regrets.  This was the price of being both a working stiff and a totally committed activist to a vision of what lay ahead and needed to happen next.  There was no whine in the man.  His spirit was always infectious.

I had first gotten to really know Tim during the period when he was helping build an alliance dealing with contingent labor.  I can remember us eating rice and beans and getting to know each other better at an Enlace meeting in Torreon, Mexico.  A couple of years after that, I remember walking him towards the Zocalo in Mexico City and past the Alameda because I knew that city better than he did.  He always talked about organizing a meeting in Paris or Italy and that I would be on the list.  I would kid him when I would see him about the fact that I was still waiting for the call!

Good man.  Good times.

My biggest disappointment now is that we never really figured out a way to make more happen.   And, more happen together!

I got my internet feed from Global Labor Strategies and opened it this afternoon because it said something about Tim.  To my shock it was a memorial notice that he had died last Friday at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts of pancreatic cancer.  I can only assume it came suddenly and felled him quickly.  I know he was good health in February except for the usual aches and pains, because we discussed it explicitly.  His family must have been devastated.  I heard him talk about them all the time.  He had told many stories of working in Denmark, his wife’s country.  He doted on his youngest daughter.

The notice included a brief obit from the Boston Globe that he was a labor activist and author of many books and articles.  All true, but none of this was the full measure of the man.  No one or two inches in the back pages can capture the rare sense that this man and the kinds of things he thought, stood for, and did were at the very heart of the most traditional and best parts of the labor movement.  What was good for workers at home and internationally was part of his blood and DNA.  There simply aren’t many Tim Costello’s anymore, and there need to be hundreds and thousands of them.  His passing may not be much noticed by many and his legacy may not be as lengthy as some, but there will always be huge debts to pay to Tim Costello and the best of the tradition of labor activism and intellectuality that he represented quietly, faithfully, and truly for all of his years.

Damn, I’ll miss the guy!  There are no replacements on the bench for Tim.