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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.

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by wsws (reposted)
Monday Jul 25th, 2005 6:57 AM
On the eve of the AFL-CIO convention, officials from four unions representing nearly a third of the US labor federation’s membership announced they would boycott the organization’s national conference that starts Monday in Chicago. The move appears to be the first step towards an organizational breakup of the fifty-year-old labor federation, which has been beset by a bitter factional struggle within its executive board since last November.

The boycott announcement followed a meeting of the AFL-CIO Executive Board on Sunday, which failed to resolve differences between the two factions.

None of the unions that announced the boycott—the Service Employees International Union, Teamsters, United Food and Commercial Workers and the textile and hotel workers’ union UNITE/HERE—has declared a formal severing of ties with the AFL-CIO.

However, the decision not to attend the constitutional convention, which includes withholding dues money from the labor federation, makes a split more probable, several officials told the Associated Press.

SEIU President Andrew Stern has been threatening to pull his 1.6 million-member union from the labor federation and set up a new organization if AFL-CIO President John Sweeney is re-elected at the convention and the Executive Board rejects his demands for the restructuring of the 60-union organization.

For the vast majority of American workers, whether the AFL-CIO splits or stays together is of little consequence, particularly since the proportion of the American workforce that is unionized has fallen to almost negligible levels. The unionization rate among private-sector workers dropped to just 7.9 percent in 2004, the lowest percentage since 1901, and overall union membership is 12.5 percent, down from 35 percent in 1955, when the AFL and CIO merged, and 20 percent as late as 1983.

The in-fighting within the top echelons of the AFL-CIO is not a dispute between leaders of genuine working class organizations. It is an unprincipled faction fight within a labor bureaucracy—an upper-middle-class stratum whose interests are hostile to the workers it nominally represents.

In the history of the labor movement there are few precedents for a split so devoid of any substantial differences. Outside of a few organizational complaints—most concerning the dispensation of dues money—Stern and his cohorts have not elaborated any serious reasons as to why they might leave the AFL-CIO. Predictably, this struggle has taken place behind the backs of the 13 million members of the labor federation, let alone the tens of millions of workers who stand outside of the unions.

Stern has long been a loyal member of the AFL-CIO bureaucracy, whose personnel and social physiognomy have been shaped by decades of betrayals of working class struggles, ferocious anti-communism, and machinations with the CIA against the international workers movement.

The SEIU leader was brought into prominence by his mentor, John Sweeney, the former head of the SEIU. He has no fundamental differences with the AFL-CIO’s policies of labor-management collaboration, economic nationalism and defense of American capitalism. He is not an opponent of the war in Iraq. He is not advancing a platform of more militant struggle, and has not even criticized the virtual abandonment of the strike weapon by the AFL-CIO leadership.

On the critical question of the disastrous political orientation of the labor federation, which has doggedly opposed any break with the American two-party system, Stern has nothing to say. Instead, he has praised Sweeney’s “political” efforts, which have turned the AFL-CIO into a virtual adjunct of the Democratic Party, adding only that the union federation might also support more “labor-friendly” Republicans.

One need only consider the union leaders who have joined Stern’s “Change to Win” coalition to see that any “new” labor movement created by these people will be just as hostile to rank-and-file workers as the AFL-CIO. Included among them is James P. Hoffa, whose Teamsters union is synonymous with corruption, gangsterism and the suppression of members’ rights.

The formation of the CIO

Some officials within Stern’s faction have attempted to compare their actions to the split within the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in 1935 that led to the formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). That struggle, however, erupted over serious questions, and the different factions gave expression to powerful social forces.

The leaders of the AFL craft unions were opposed to any effort to organize the millions of unskilled and immigrant workers employed in mass production industries, such as steel, auto and rubber. The more farsighted union officials, such as mineworkers’ leader John L. Lewis, recognized that the labor movement could not survive without unionizing the industrial monopolies, like US Steel, which controlled the coal mines and exercised overwhelming influence over the economy.

At the same time, Lewis and the other CIO officials were under the pressure of a militant and insurgent working class, radicalized by the mass unemployment and pervasive poverty of the Great Depression. These workers were increasingly coming under the influence of socialist ideas, and Lewis and his cohorts realized that if the CIO did not contain this movement, it could take an anti-capitalist and revolutionary path.

There are definite reasons for the bitter infighting that is consuming the AFL-CIO bureaucracy today, but they have nothing to do with what is being said publicly, let alone the genuine interests of the working class.

For years, the bureaucracy was able to insulate itself from the impact of the disastrous policies it pursued in response to the decisive changes in the US and world economy over the last quarter century. As American industry faced increased international competition in the 1970s and 1980s, the union bureaucracy functioned as junior partners with corporate management and did everything possible to suppress the resistance of US workers to wage-cutting, corporate downsizing and outsourcing to low-wage countries.

In exchange for its services, the labor bureaucracy gained access to an array of labor-management programs, slush funds and real estate ventures that enabled it, combined with increased dues levies on its remaining membership, to maintain and even increase its income, despite the continual loss of union members.

The plummeting membership rolls, however, have finally caught up with the labor bureaucracy. As its overall income declines, the union bureaucracy enters into ever more bitter turf wars, with unions engaging in raiding drives against one another to secure new members and new sources of dues income.

Meanwhile, corporate and political circles no longer see the AFL-CIO as a social or political force capable of mobilizing a significant section of the working class. It increasingly occupies the role of bit player in the internal struggles of the American ruling elite.

It is noteworthy that Stern’s first salvo against Sweeney followed Democrat John Kerry’s failed bid to win the 2004 presidential election. While making clear that he had no differences with the pro-war and pro-business policies espoused by Kerry and the Democrats—policies that alienated millions of working class voters and facilitated Bush’s reelection—Stern argued that the AFL-CIO had to overcome its membership problem in order to more successfully campaign for the Democrats.

The declining influence of the AFL-CIO has encouraged growing sections of big business and the Republican Party to circumvent the unions altogether. In the recent period alone, the federal bankruptcy courts have granted United Airlines the right to stop paying into the union pension fund, Republican governors have unilaterally abrogated public employee contracts, and the Bush administration has moved towards establishing a pay-for-performance system for all federal employees, along the lines of the Department of Homeland Security.

Stern made clear the centrality of jurisdictional disputes between various unions in the current conflict at the top of the AFL-CIO bureaucracy. In a recent interview with the Nation magazine, he bitterly complained that the Steelworkers union was infringing on the SEIU’s turf by organizing commercial building and healthcare workers.

Stern told the Nation he had offered the United Steelworkers union the option of organizing security guards at industrial facilities if they agreed to lay off security guards in commercial buildings. The Steelworkers officials, however, saw that as an attempt to distract them from organizing healthcare workers, Stern complained.

The fight within the labor bureaucracy has generated little interest except among ex-radicals and liberals such as those who publish the Nation, Democratic Party officials who are concerned that a split in the AFL-CIO could disrupt their flow of money from the labor bureaucracy, and media commentators who worry that a split could weaken a long-standing and reliable prop of American capitalism and its two-party system.

Among union members, the rift has been hardly noticed. The comments of one worker, cited by the Detroit News, sum up the general contempt in which the AFL-CIO bureaucracy is held. Noting that few of his fellow workers were following news of the possible breakup, Skip Hanline, a member of the United Auto Workers union at Delphi’s steering assembly plant in Athens, Alabama, said he had seen a drastic shift in the unions over the last 20 years. Union leaders, he said, had more in common with company executives than with assembly line workers.

“The unions have become more capitalistic in nature,” Hanline said, “They’re more corporate in the way the run things.”

The fracturing of the AFL-CIO underscores the fact that at a resurgence of the working class movement will not emerge through this bureaucratized apparatus, or any of its factions, but through the creation of new forms of organization—above all, a political party of the working class that consciously strives for the unity of workers internationally and the reorganization of economic life based on socialist principles of genuine democracy and equality.

http://wsws.org/articles/2005/jul2005/aflc-j25.shtml
by Worker
Monday Jul 25th, 2005 11:45 AM
What started as a progressive movement by SEIU has morphed into a right wing coup that failed. Good riddance to the corrupt mob boss Hoffa and the ineffective UFCW hacks.

They sold out long ago.

That they are also in bed with Bush buddy McCarron of the Carpenters shows how desperately greedy and blind to reality they are.

Now SEIU workers can look forward to more low paying jobs cleaning up after massive oil spills when the Teamsters get their way and open the Arctic Wildlife Refuge to corporate polluters.

It was hot in Chicago - apparently global warming fried the brains of the union misleaders.
by anon
Tuesday Jul 26th, 2005 12:28 AM
right on . . .
by K
Friday Aug 5th, 2005 1:20 PM
Hoffa isn't running the CWC - so let's watch and see what kind of leadership emerges.