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A House Divided: For Better or Worse?

Note: this concluding report on the AFL-CIO Convention and events surrounding it will be offered in two parts.  First, a summary and catch-up on certain events and impressions of the week in Chicago; second, an attempt to sort out and analyze these events, what they represent in a larger context, and what it all could mean to this country’s working class.

One of the many reporters covering the AFL-CIO’s “50th Anniversary Convention” commented on its conclusion: “well, it’s ended here, but it’s just beginning out there!” He waved with his hand as if fanning a far horizon. His point was clear: now the rupture in top labor’s ranks precipitated by the breakaway of several large unions at the start of the week was coursing its way to the union base. Open fault lines would now appear in subordinate labor bodies in states, cities, and towns all over the country.

For most of the delegates from those widespread locations, already on the front lines of the sustained attack by corporate capital and its government accomplices, the week has raised more questions than it has answered. Despite an attempt to conduct a “business-as-usual” convention, the events of the week overall have clearly rattled the Federation from top to bottom.  Faced with the sudden loss of one-third of its affiliate membership base, a severe dues income dip, and the expected creation of a competing federation of the breakaway unions, this probably looked like the week from hell to AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and his remaining administration.

Among the Convention’s last morning’s unfinished business was what some had hoped would be a full debate on the controversial role of the AFL-CIO American Center for International Solidarity (ACILS).  Now called the Solidarity Center for short, the ACILS has over the years received significant monies from the U.S. Government’s National Endowment for Democracy (NED).  The National Endowment for Democracy is cited by critics for its “dubious history, having been deployed frequently to promote U.S. government foreign policy objectives, including assisting in overthrowing democratically elected governments and interfering in the internal affairs of the labor movements of other countries.” Such an unprecedented open debate was not to be.  In its place, by use of arbitrary Resolution Process rules, was an administration-backed resolution which under those rules represented the final and only resolution to be voted on the matter of the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center.

The administration’s resolution to protect and perpetuate its Solidarity Center made no mention of the NED funding or any of the alleged improper activities in other countries over the years.  The floor discussion on that resolution was a textbook in controlling debate.  In fact there was no debate.  Each of the recognized speakers worked from a carefully prepared script and played up such things as the more recent role of the Solidarity Center in the dispersal of funds to African labor contacts to fight the “devastating effects of HIV/AIDS.”

One speaker, a high-ranking national union vice-president, even reminisced enthusiastically about the AFL-CIO role in the conduct of the “Cold War.”  It was a throw-back moment.  The vote was taken on the resolution without a speaker having been recognized to offer an opposing view.  One delegate who had supported a resolution which would have banned the Solidarity Center from taking NED grants noted that “in the wake of the millions being lost to the Federation’s treasury by the split, shutting off the State Department’s funding spigot never had a chance anyway!”

In the brighter-moment category, withdrawn Executive Council candidate Harry Kelber was given his negotiated opportunity to address the Convention for a few minutes (he pushed the envelope on his allotted time).  Harry “thanked Brother Sweeney” and commented on the fact that if he had run as announced, he would have had absolutely no chance of winning and by negotiating for “these few minutes” felt “he had made a good deal.”  He drew laughter and applause on that remark.

Brother Kelber then gave the Convention something seldom heard the entire week, pointed but constructive criticism.  He noted that, in his view, “the [rank and file] members don’t have the slightest idea of what you’re doing.”  He went on to contend that the leadership lacked a real “vision of a labor movement and a vision of society for our children and grandchildren.” He offered additional observations on the lack of democracy in unions and the AFL-CIO at this time, and other changes that he felt should be made.  He ended by stating, “I am committed to this labor movement!” He received a standing ovation.  It was a rare, almost poignant, moment in a week of sobering and ominous events for the delegates.

A Key Question: What’s Going to Happen Back Home?

Throughout the week, leaders from the State Federations and particularly leaders from the Central Labor Councils (CLCs) across the country were holding ad hoc meetings and engaging in small-group discussions about the anticipated problems the fracture in the labor movement would produce.  There was a clear sense of urgency and concern among that broad group of delegates. It is this layer of the labor movement, in cities and communities large and small, where the real work of the labor movement, outside the individual workplaces, gets done.

Typically, CLCs represent the second line of defense when workers in a specific union are under attack in contract disputes, particularly when strikes, lockouts, or extreme employer behavior raise the profile of the struggle.  They can, and the best of them do, represent the solidarity face of all labor when workers in their area are under attack.  When they function as they should, they are the bridge between community support for struggling workers and they play a central role in building coalitions to fight against today’s rising tide of federal and state public policy takeaways concerning Medicaid protections and others.  The CLCs are a critical terminal in funding, and recruiting the foot soldiers for, the “voter registration” drives and the “get-out-the-vote” efforts in elections.

The disaffiliation of major unions from the national AFL-CIO, and the forming of a new federation (the Change-to-Win coalition plan) will impact virtually every CLC and State Federation in the country.  Where the confrontation in Chicago left that situation, based on the stated position of the feuding factions, is still unclear. The Change-to-Win unions took the position that they would continue to affiliate and pay dues to the state and local bodies.  The AFL-CIO leadership has rejected that option, declaring that exclusive Subordinate Body affiliation is barred to non-national affiliates (even though that rule has been unevenly enforced in the past).

The delegates of a fractured national labor movement are now back home where the split could have the most profound effect.  The impact may vary widely from place to place, depending on a number of factors, starting with the relative amount of per capita dues (the amount paid per member by CLC participating unions) that could be lost by a hard rule that CTW unions can not participate in State or Local Councils.

Already, I understand that some CLCs have voted to not allow participation of, or accept dues from, CTW unions.  Others are reputedly planning to ignore national AFL-CIO directives and continue on as before.  Another option under discussion is the creation of “parallel organizations” to carry out certain joint activities and provide mutual fund pooling for specific projects or activities.  Similarly, there are in many communities auxiliary organizations like Jobs with Justice coalitions (consisting of labor, community, religious activists and organizations), and other labor supported formations that work on specific issues and community concerns.  These could grow in importance if local labor organizations want to continue to project a united front.

Today, unionists in communities everywhere are wrestling with these questions.  While these are unwelcome developments to most local leaders, they could, of necessity, be forced to come up with a new degree of resourcefulness and innovation.  That possibility has started a discussion among a growing network of progressive union activists who are calling for a renewed outreach to rank-and-file members and local union activists at the community level.  Ideas, long forgotten, like “working people’s assemblies” and area shop steward councils and class oriented labor/community education conferences are resurfacing.

Fracture or no fracture, the relentless corporate offensive against workers everywhere requires new strategies.  The breakup of monopoly unionism, even one precipitated by the barons of the bureaucracy with similarly anemic agendas could force a sinking labor movement to rediscover its greatest strength — its membership and its larger social constituency.

Postscript: as we post, it is now known that the Change-to-Win unions plan a September 27th founding Convention in Cincinnati for their affiliates to formalize the new labor federation under that banner.  It may or may not be progress, but it continues to produce more news coverage than labor has had in years.

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Concluding Commentary

“This is another fine mess you’ve gotten us into!” — Hardy to Laurel

Revitalization or Recidivism?

Taking “the long view” in the immediate wake of a historical period’s potentially most dramatic events has its dangers.  What has happened inside the U.S. Labor Movement over the past fifteen or so months, often described as a debate, was both overdue and curious. Overdue, because leaders finally acknowledged the desperately deepening crisis workers and labor unions in America are facing. Yet, what I and a number of others have found so curious is how shallow, myopic, and unplugged from today’s worker reality the so-called debate has remained to date. This has been a ping-pong match between guardians of a failed legacy — a faction fight to see who can best restore business unionism and labor’s junior partnership with capital.

The debate has always been a top-deck affair. At no point did rank-and-file workers and even secondary union leaders in state and local bodies and local unions have a way to represent their points of view, much less their dues dollars in the dispute.  Throughout, it was defined more by what was not included in the debate than the few questions the leaders chose to wrangle over. The great contradiction — what the leaders want and what the workers need.  In the trenches, where this debate means almost nothing, workers as a class are being systematically and relentlessly exploited.

Degradation of wages and working conditions, the continuous shredding of the social safety net, the disproportionate weight of taxes and prices of goods and services on the backs of workers, globalization as a tool of oppression — the list is extensive and growing.  American workers don’t have to be told their quality of life is spirally downward — they know.  What they don’t know is what happened to the mediating institutions that were supposed to launch a counterattack in their behalf. As one of the primary institutions in question, Big Labor’s meetings in Chicago did not even come close to answering that question.

A number of Convention observers seemed to agree that the essential unresolved differences between the feuding factions to be the CTW coalition wanting to spend more money on organizing and the AFL leadership wanting to keep more of a spending focus on politics.  I don’t think it’s that simple, but the absence of a comprehensive analysis by either side helped feed that impression.

In a recent interview in Truthout (noted in an earlier report), Bill Fletcher, a former top Federation staffer, noted that “missing from the debate [is] a thoughtful, rigorous analysis of the economic and political conditions we’re facing. . . .” He went on to suggest that we need “radical solutions.”

I can’t help but think that workers under the heel of job losses through greed-driven corporate globalization strategies, those fired for expressing support for unionization, retirees now facing the loss of union-negotiated health insurance and possible pension destruction, service workers perpetually forced to work below a living wage, workers in the army of the unemployed, and millions of others in our “dog-eat-dog economy” would agree with Brother Fletcher.  If we need solutions equal to the radical character of the attack we are under, then, the current internal labor squabble is pointing us in the wrong direction.

On the question of the “analysis” raised by Fletcher, it is past time for those who share his view and progressive backbenchers to raise a collective voice of dissent and disapproval and to begin to produce an alternative agenda.  The renewal of a fighting, class-conscious labor movement in America — one that knows which side it is on, here and around the globe — is what the workers need and want. Educate the base. Give secondary leaders in locals, unorganized workplaces, and communities the tools and strategy-development skills and incentives and build a new labor movement out of more than the “scattered deck chairs” of the old!

Meanwhile, back in the world of jousting union factions, the next shoe to drop is likely to be the Change-to-Win Convention, scheduled in Cincinnati, September 27th, to form an alternative national labor federation.  I guess we will all have to just stay tuned as the feud continues.  So far, it’s the only game around.

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AFL-CIO Convention Spends Day in Horse Latitudes

Seamen of old in sailing ships used to dread the days when their voyage took them into the oceanic “horse latitudes,” with scant wind, if any, to fill the sails. That’s a little overdrawn, but the Federation’s Wednesday deliberations were slow and wholly uneventful compared to the drama and tension provoked earlier in the week with the big split.

No new shoe dropped — neither of the other two boycotting unions, UFCW and UNITE-HERE, made an official declaration of disaffiliation.  And, the CTW folks did not otherwise create any more news.

So it was business as usual at the end of fabled Navy Pier in Chicago and there was almost a sense of relief among the delegates that at least some part of the Federation’s past practice had resurfaced. A number of resolutions were passed in relatively short order. Only a couple provoked more then token comments and/or debate.

There was a presentation by two young students, one from the United States Student Association and the other from United Students Against Sweatshops.  They described highlights and victories from the previous year’s wave of student activism on college campuses in behalf of workers, both those who worked for low wages on the campuses, and those being exploited by global corporations in other countries.  It was exciting, and it is a trend labor and progressives should encourage and support.

One aspect of today’s business that I found interesting was the passage of several resolutions that had originally been part of the now departed, challenging unions’ package of demands. These were resolutions that Fed administration leaders had agreed to support in an effort to appease the CTW unions.  They included the concept of creating Industry Coordinating Committees to oversee organizing targeting and set contract standards among the unions in each particular industry cluster.

A resolution was passed to reduce the number of seats on the Executive Council — an obvious response to the unions who take took their leave.  And then the delegates were asked to approve a resolution that created an Executive Committee, something CTW folks had demanded, made up of the AFL-CIO Vice-Presidents representing the 10 largest unions in the Federation.  That’s clearly another layer of bureaucracy and reduces further the impact of the smaller unions and the Vice-Presidents on the larger Executive Council who represent the diversity components within labor who have fought so hard to be included.

One piece of business not completed was a hastily crafted resolution designed to give the Executive Council and General Board “extraordinary circumstances” power to “suspend provisions of the Constitution” in the wake of the current and pending disaffiliations. Sounds a little scary (thinking of the Patriot Act here).  The matter is to be brought back up on Thursday with some modifications.

The day’s session wound to an end with the nomination of the Executive Council.  The only question that had been open on the rubber stamping election process was the stated intention of Harry Kelber (which I mentioned yesterday) to run for a VP seat, therefore throwing the whole process into an election (lengthy and never favored by the administration).  It seems that negotiations occurred overnight ,and Brother Kelber (remember, a spry 91) agreed not to be nominated if he could be allotted some minutes on Thursday morning in the Convention’s closing session to address the assembly. That was agreed and the usual speedy and suspense-less elections were completed.

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AFL-CIO Votes against Bush’s War:
Smaller AFL-CIO Gets Down to Business

On scale, today’s activities at the AFL-CIO Convention were almost routine and even a little dull. Dull that is compared to the excitement of Sunday’s pre-convention boycott announcement by four big unions.  And, compared to the even bigger news yesterday, the convention’s first day, of the official breakaway of two of the nation’s largest unions, SEIU and the Teamsters.  This is a convention where history is unfolding, and yet delegates are still bound to wade through a series of resolutions and amendments in very traditional ways.

In light of what already happened, news to report becomes a little skimpy.  There were more political speeches in the morning, including by Chicago’s Mayor Richard Daley and Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.  This is really routine fare until we come to the highlight of the morning — a speech to the convention by the Reverend Jesse Jackson.

As he is known to do, Jesse Jackson turned up the volume, brought a new cadence to the almost somber air, and laid out a prescription for rejuvenation.  Citing many historic moments when power had to be seized independently because it was not to be given, he exhorted the convention to “get on the third rail where the juice is” and take on the many problems workers are confronted with.  In addition to other timely “directives,” Brother Jackson emphatically called on delegates to support an end to the unjust war in Iraq — now!

The balance of the day was consumed with more resolutions, many now taking on greater weight since Monday’s announced split and the anticipated loss of revenues and the impact on the functioning of many subordinate bodies, like the State Federation and the local Central Labor Councils.  The thrust of much of what was approved sought to recoup lost dues through affiliates who in the past would only partially affiliate at those levels.

Finally, near the end of the day, the resolution against the war in Iraq was brought to the floor. Many anti-war delegates and USLAW (US Labor Against the War) supporters had feared this proposed resolution would be held back to the very last day and possibly even not voted on at all.  These fears were grounded in the Federation’s history of blind support for the war in Viet Nam and an earlier timidity to speak out on Iraq even as public support was evaporating for the Bush Administration’s falsely justified invasion and desperately failing occupation.  The delegates had the answer.  The resolution was passed with only modest opposition.

Tomorrow may be again a slow day with nuggets of real news hard to find, but we’ll go hunting for them.  One area of real internal dispute clearly remains: the continued activities of the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center’s receipt of the State Department-sponsored National Endowment for Democracy funds.  Proponents of ending this “unholy” alliance have been working hard to get a resolution on the floor for a vote. It may come up on Wednesday.

A quick note regarding democracy within the AFL-CIO: there are rarely ever contested elections for Executive Council members. The Federation merely puts out a slate equal to the number of seats to be elected, and that’s it. But this year Harry Kelber — a long-time critic (he’s a very spry 91) of Federation policy and, as he sees it, their lack of accountability — is an announced candidate for a seat on the Council. There seems to be some hanky-panky going on to keep Harry from even being nominated by top officials.  This is not a good image for any so-called “democratic” organization to project, much less one under the scrutiny of the media, given the big split of yesterday.

I’m going to close now and find my way over to the Drake Hotel to attend an “Elect Harry Kelber” rally. The young man who gave me a flyer on the rally also told me that, as a special treat, “the ashes of the great martyred IWW icon, Joe Hill, would be on display.”  That’s an old ploy and fits the legend of Joe Hill who exhorted “workers not to mourn, but to organize,” but the invocation of the spirit of Joe is a fitting one in this case (Joe was shot by firing squad in the 1920s, and Harry Kelber would have been alive at the time). Well, as to the ashes — who knows?

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25 July 2005
by Jerry Tucker

It’s Official:
SEIU and Teamsters Quit the AFL-CIO

Today, at a little after nine o’clock a.m., the Fiftieth Year Anniversary Convention of the AFL-CIO was gaveled to order. On its face it resembled any number of conventions preceding it. The convention hall at the end of the Chicago’s Navy Pier was decorated with artfully designed banners and draped screens with super-sized images of workers with smiling, confident faces amid slogans and messages of solidarity and inclusion, and forecasts of an even better future. Visually, you had the sense that it was crowded, that the planners carefully made arrangements to present the look of a just slightly over-packed auditorium. The 30-yard-long front stage had forty-some top officials from various member-unions, with a podium in the center. There were two huge television monitors high above the stage to present speakers and other participants on a grand scale to the most distant seat in the hall.

But every person of the several thousand in the auditorium knew that this was the start of a much different “House of Labor” convention. Four of the Federation’s biggest unions weren’t on the scene. The boycott that had been announced the day before by Change-to-Win unions — SEIU, Teamsters, UNITE-HERE, and the United Food and Commercial Workers — was in place. It was also known to all assembled that by the end of the day two of those unions, SEIU and the Teamsters, would no longer be affiliated with the AFL-CIO.

At 1:00 pm, those two unions, with representatives from the other two boycotting unions, formally announced their decisions to disaffiliate at a press conference held in the offices of SEIU Local 1 — a number of blocks from the Convention — in downtown Chicago.

In his speech to the Convention at the end of Navy Pier, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney expressed anger at the unions not choosing to attend the convention, describing it as “a grievous insult to all the unions who helped us — and to the unions in this hall who came here to discuss and debate the difficult issues and make historic changes.” John Sweeney’s speech can found at <www.aflcio.org>.

In the small, tightly packed SEIU conference room, SEIU President Andy Stern described his union and the Teamsters’ decision to disaffiliate quite differently, saying, “It represents, not an accomplishment, but an enormous opportunity, and a recognition that we are in the midst of the most rapid transformative moment in economic history, and workers are suffering.”

Teamster President James P. Hoffa, in his remarks at the 1:00 press conference, maintained that the Change-to-Win unions intended to continue to be “friends to all unions.” He went on to explain that, while not paying dues to the national AFL-CIO, the CTW unions would continue to pay dues to State Federations and Central Labor Councils (CLC) throughout the country, and that any union in a difficult strike or struggle could depend on the full support of the Teamster union.

Other questioners at the dissident faction’s press conference again (echo of the previous day) asked for elaboration on the specific differences on issues between their group and the AFL-CIO leadership. Once again, the principals were evasive, speaking in generalities about how their group had “chosen a course and strength for the American Labor Movement.” And how this was “the beginning of a new era for America’s workers.”

As close to a specific illustration of differences as the press questioners could get was offered by Andy Stern when he contrasted the wordings of the Fed leadership’s and CTW’s resolutions on key points of action: where the Fed leadership resolutions employed the word “should,” the CTW’s used the word “shall.”

The CTW spokespersons indicated that a founding convention to set up the new “Federation” was in the works, and that the approximately $10 million that each of their unions would save by not paying national AFL-CIO dues, would be used for organizing, and that CTW “would hire core staff” at some point.

Meanwhile, back at the AFL-CIO convention, the day’s agenda was filled primarily with speakers from the Democratic Party like Senators Dick Durbin, Harry Reid, Barack Obama, and Ted Kennedy, along with House Leader Nancy Pelosi, and the NAACP’s Julian Bond. No controversial resolutions like the pending resolution on the War in Iraq, or a resolution that Federation severs its ties with the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) were on today’s agenda. Those contentious issues will come up later in the week. We will discuss those and other convention related activities in future posts.

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24 July 24 2005, 6:00 PM
by Jerry Tucker

Big Labor Split Now Seems Certain:
Four of Six “Change-to-Win” Unions to Boycott AFL-CIO Convention

In a meeting held late Sunday afternoon, the leaders and delegates from the rival “Change-to-Win” (CTW) faction of the ALF-CIO announced their intentions with regard to participation in the AFL-CIO Convention, scheduled to convene tomorrow, Monday July 25 in Chicago.

The presidents of all six CTW unions, SEIU, Unite-HERE, Teamsters, UFCW, Laborers, and UFW participated in the announcement at a press conference held in a separate hotel from the Convention hotel. Hundreds of the delegates of those unions were also present at the announcement.

There was loud applause when Anna Berger, SEIU Financial-Secty, and CTW President made the announcement that SEIU, Unite-HERE, UFCW, and the Teamsters would not participate in the Convention. The other two unions indicated that they would participate but, like the four other coalition members, they would not accept nomination or election to Executive Council positions in the AFL-CIO.

Questioned as to whether this decision would lead to full disaffiliation from the labor federation, both SEIU and the Teamsters President’s Andy Stern and James Hoffa indicated that “they would have a further announcement on that question tomorrow.” The others in the coalition left the question open, but they pledged they were fully on board with moving forward with the Change-to-Win Coalition. UFCW indicated they also already had the authority to pull out, but did not indicate at what point they might do so.

In answer to a direct question about the reasons for this action and the specific differences they had with the AFL-CIO leadership, UFCW President Joe Hansen responded that the issues were “fundamental and principled.” On being asked again to be more specific, he simply repeated that “the differences were fundamental and principled.” Neither he nor any of the other presidents offered any further elaboration.  Cheering was frequent and everyone sounded upbeat at this event. Stern closed the questioning by stating, in response to a reporter asking about dividing the labor movement, “We are not trying to divide the labor movement. We are trying to rebuild it.” On that note, the press conference ended to loud cheers and applause.

The mood and tone of the CTW announcement meeting contrasted significantly from that of a meeting/pep rally held by the unions continuing to support the current AFL-CIO leadership earlier in the day. There were cheers for officials as they were introduced and music from a live band, but the mood was more subdued and, as the rally broke up, the participants leaving conveyed a collectively dour look. The band was trying to play “Solidarity Forever” as the delegates were leaving, but even the band seemed to reflect the mood, as the music has a slower, almost dirge-like sound to it.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney issued a statement following the CTW unions’ announcement in which he indicated that the “four unions have decided that if they can’t win, they won’t show up for the game.”

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Highlights

  • United Farm Workers (UFW) Join Change-to-Win Coalition*
  • Change-to-Win Unions to hold 3:00 pm press conference to announce whether or not they will boycott the Convention (partisans on both sides seem to think they will walk).  Stay tuned.

The AFL-CIO Convention:
Will It Improve the Plight of America’s Workers?

Whether this week’s AFL-CIO Conventioneers, celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the merger of the American Federation of Labor (founded in 1886) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (founded in 1935), could produce a united front to combat the long ignored “one-sided class war being waged [relentlessly] on workers in this country” was never really in question. They can’t!  Labor’s leadership is organized in a “circular firing squad.”

It’s not in question whether this convention of the self-described “House of Labor” will provide an unusual measure of drama, with major players pushing competing proposals for the revitalization of our beleaguered labor movement. That, in a surreal sense, is assured. Five of the most influential and numerically potent affiliated unions, under the banner of Change To Win Coalition (CTW), have issued a challenge to the existing direction of the Federation and seem equally passionate about replacing its top officers, particularly AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.  This conflict has been brewing for over a year.  There have been open skirmishes and rancorous internal debates. A threat by the CTW unions to disaffiliate from the AFL-CIO is also in play.  Some observers have described the situation as “a train wreck in the making.”

What’s it all about?  Each side cites the precipitous decline in the percentage of union members in the total U.S. work force as the driving imperative behind the need to change course. However, the bulk of the debate, as initiated by CTW, has been focused on “restructuring” and resource reallocation (how much Federation dues dollars to rebate to affiliates that meet new organizing criteria goals).  The argument is underpinned by buzz phrases like “achieving density” and strong initiatives to merge a number of existing unions into industrial sector blocks with Industrial Coordinating Committees (ICCs) to assist in strategic targeting and police the bargaining standards of each sector’s member unions.

The positions of each side have changed over the course of the debate.  And, in the days just before the Convention, additional discussions were underway between representatives of the each faction.  The detailed positions of the current competing proposals are available online.  For the Change to Win Coalition, check their web sites: unitetowin.org and changetowin.org, titled “Change To Win Amendments & Resolutions.”  The counter-positions of the current AFL-CIO Officers can be found at <www.aflcio.org>.

A larger question being raised by a number of unionists and labor-friendly observers, myself included, is what is not included in the current top-down debate.  Neither side offers an overall vision of how a just society should be organized.  Nothing in this fractious exchange provides or encourages greater internal democracy.  And, despite the 30-year long corporate war on workers’ wages, conditions of employment, and the quality of life in working class communities, little in the dueling proposals suggests how to wage a concerted counterattack. There is also a very limited appreciation in this debate of the depth of the collusion of government with the corporate aggressors. In the positions of either side, there is only an oblique nod to the need for international solidarity among unions and labor movements within the global economy.

In a very recent analysis of the current debate, RoseAnn DeMoro, Executive Director of the independent California Nurses Association, published a piece posted on Counterpunch (21 July 2005), entitled “Top 10 Problems with the Current Debate in the Labor Movement.” One of the ten, for example, suggests that:

No issues affecting the majority of working Americans are being debated — declining real wages, the health care crisis, the continued erosion of democracy in the workplace, outsourcing of jobs across the skill and pay spectrum, a deteriorating social safety net, declining support for public education, environmental degradation, social justice and ongoing racial and gender inequality, alienation and disaffection from the political process.

Bill Fletcher, a former labor organizer and one time top staffer in the AFL-CIO, and currently President of TransAfrica, in a recent TruthOut interview (David Bacon, “Labor Needs a Hard Left Turn,” 21 July 2005), noted how conservative U.S. unions are compared to the labor movements of many other countries. He further argued that “if we are going to have a renewed labor movement . . . we need radical solutions!”

That would be a historical new direction.  For this now third generation of merged Federation leaders, however, despite the depth of the current crisis, “radical solutions” have never on the table.  To be sure, there’s a lot of sound, and even a little fury, in the air as the leadership of our decimated union ranks gather, but very little of it is focused on those who are concertedly widening the gulf of inequality.

As a historical aside: this gathering can not, in any way, be compared to the collection of intrepid radicals and activists who in this same Chicago 100 years ago gathered under the unifying banner of the Continental Congress of the Working Class and gave birth to the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Note on the Posting Process

A labor convention is often a difficult event to report on, particularly when conflicts, as unusual as they are, occur between factions. Much of what is going on the floor of the convention does not reflect how issues and questions are actually being decided. The tension at this convention revolves mainly around the question of whether or not the labor movement will split in two. There are sub-plots and internal intrigues afoot. But it is anticipated that we will have answers to the most basic question later today.

I will attempt to bring the news of how that overriding question is answered as soon as I can, with an update and any supporting information and snap analysis possible.  As they say on the radio, “stay tuned.”

* UFW has only about 30,000 members but, given their history and the charisma of their founding leader, Cesar Chavez, their joining the challenging unions has a certain cachet.

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Jerry Tucker, a founder of the UAW New Directions Movement, will report daily from the AFL-CIO Convention in Chicago, July 25-28, 2005.

 

As Tucker noted in his talk on “U.S. Labor in Crisis,” organized labor is at a crossroads, heading in the direction of a split.  And yet, none of the proposals for “restructuring” offered by contending union leaders is truly animated by “a new social vision to counter the market-driven economic and political stratification of American life,” the essential element in any solution to the crisis of the labor movement in the United States. The ongoing debate on the fate of the AFL-CIO, however, does offer an opening, through which rank-and-file workers can attempt to raise voices for democratic control over the direction of organized labor. Tucker’s convention reports will be part of that attempt.

 

In the meantime, Tucker recommends Rose Ann DeMoro, “The Top 10 Problems with the Current ‘Crisis’ in the Labor Movement” (21 July 2005) and JoAnn Wypijewski, “Is This Really an ‘Insurgency’ to Shake Up the Labor Movement?” (22 July 2005).
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