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U.S. | Labor & Workers

A Third of the AFL/CIO - Possible Faction?
by Kight ( kightsolomente [at] hotmail.com )
Monday Jul 25th, 2005 1:29 AM
Seven major unions equaling a third of the total AFL/CIO membership have joined the Change to Win Coalition, possibly signaling the largest union faction in over three generations.
Seven unions have signed on to the Change to Win Coalition (CWC), in what could lead to the largest union split since the 1930's. While the Change to Win Coalition hasn't announced an official separation from the AFL/CIO, four of the CWC member unions have announced they plan to boycott the upcoming AFL/CIO conference, which may indicate their intention to disengage. The AFL/CIO is currently the largest union coalition in the United States.

Some of the more outspoken and recently active unions have joined the Change to Win Coalition, including recent addition, the United Farm Workers (UFW), along with UNITE HERE, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA) , United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Four of these, UNITE HERE, Teamsters, UFCW, and SEIU have stated they will not attend the AFL/CIO Convention, which was scheduled to mark the fifty-year anniversary of the AFL/CIO merge.

The CWC names union growth as a major objective of their coalition. Disagreements over strategies to reach growth in union membership are a primary point of contention between CWC membership and the AFL/CIO leadership. When the AFL and the CIO merged in the 1950's, one of every three private-sector workers belonged to a labor group. Now, the number is less than 8%. ("Teamsters, SEIU Decide to Bolt AFL-CIO" July 24, 2005, http://www.peoplepc.com/newsstory)

Decrease in membership could be attributed to globalization and a shift in U.S industry and worker roles, which have acted to change the face of workers in the United States over the past few decades. Occupations that formerly made up the bulk of the U.S. workforce have now decreased in worker number, while large parts of the U.S. workforce have shifted to take on new roles or to acclimate to growing and changing industries. U.S. unionism hasn't made the shift along with the workforce, resulting in union membership dwindling and larger numbers of the workforce employed without union representation.

In a blog entry posted to http://www.unitetowinblog.org/ , CWC chair Anna Berger states, "The fact is that what big corporations have been cheering for the past 10 years is labor's inability to unite more workers with us and make our movement stronger."

Berger goes on to quote Peter List, president of the North American Employers Group as having recently said, "The American labor movement is clinically brain dead. Labor leaders within the AFL-CIO are living in a perpetual state of denial."

AFL/CIO president, John Sweeny, and his supporters, notably Democrat politicians, have stern words for the boycotters. In a press release, Sweeney stated, "A split would be bad for workers," and has suggested the move would weaken union influence on the workplace. The AFL/CIO leadership and Democrat politicians have long worked together in symbiotic relationships, which some say has resulted in the nation's largest union coalition having made a decades-long shift towards maintaining the U.S. workforce and economic status-quo.

The AFL/CIO maintains a history of employing largely white, male leadership. Of notable contrast, the CWC announced on July 6th that it had elected Anna Burger to first chair. Burger has a long history as SEIU leader and activist known for her work for the rights of women, immigrants, and people of color.

But leadership aside, the CWC worker membership is made up largely of people of color, immigrants, and women; those workers most effected by labor abuse in the United States. The CWC shows commitment to the struggle of its membership, openly stating these goals on the CWC website ( http://www.changetowin.org/ ) :

"...union members can join with community groups to build a new grassroots movement in America that is strong enough to…

1. Win access to affordable health care and a retirement with dignity for everyone in America.

2. Stop the Wal-Marting of good jobs in America - and make the Wal-Marts of the world accountable to the communities they profit from.

3. Give new hope to those hit hardest by the anti-worker tactics of global corporations, including working women and people of color."

The remaining workforce will be watching to see if the Change to Work Coalition fulfills to grow union membership, while giving voice to immigrants, people of color, and women workers.