FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

AFL-CIO and Change to Win in "Re-Wed" Talks

“In politics, as in religion, we have less charity for those who believe in half of our creed than for those that deny the whole of it.”

—Charles Caleb Colton

It is being reported that the first, tentative steps have been taken in a process that may lead, ultimately, to the reunification of organized labor’s two “competing” national federations—the AFL-CIO, and Change to Win (CtW).

In 2005, in a dramatic affront to union solidarity, CtW broke away from the AFL-CIO, despite determined efforts by labor activists, progressive commentators, and Democratic politicians to keep them on the farm.

Established in 1955 (when the American Federation of Labor merged with the Congress of Industrial Organizations), the AFL-CIO is the largest and most influential labor federation ever to exist.  Even with the seven big-time unions leaving it to join CtW, the Federation still has 56 unions and over 10 million members. George Meany was its first president.

Yet, in spite of the Federation’s high profile and influence, seven mutineers defiantly chose to break away and form their own coalition, arguing that it was not only time for a “change,” but that the House of Labor had revealed itself to be too unimaginative and ineffectual to continue to run the show.

The seven who split off were:  the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees, and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union (UNITE HERE), the United Brotherhood of Carpenters (UBC), the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), the United Food and Commercial Workers (UCFW), the United Farm Workers (UFW) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT). [note: while the UBC joined the CtW, it didn’t, technically, join the mutiny, having left the AFL-CIO on their own, in 2001]

The issue fueling the breakaway was the AFL-CIO’s lack of success in organizing, of bringing in much needed new union members.  And the key contributing factor in that regard—the final straw, so to speak—was the AFL-CIO’s failure to organize a single Wal-Mart store (with nearly 4,000 to choose from), despite a prodigious, expensive, and well-publicized recruiting effort.  Believing it could do better, CtW set off on its own.

Still, this was more than a simple policy dispute.  Like all palace coups, there was considerable behind-the-scenes maneuvering and intrigue.  The then (and current) president of the AFL-CIO was John Sweeney, who has served for 13 years.  The man who led the mutiny against Sweeney was one Andrew Stern, president of the SEIU.  And Sweeney himself was a former president of the SEIU.  So, intersecting histories, simmering resentments, and unbridled ambition played a part in this, as well.

In the three and a half years since the breakaway, CtW found out a couple of things.  First, they realized they hadn’t gained anything appreciable by setting off on their own, that remaining united had certain inherent advantages, and that the “whole” can, in fact, be greater than the sum of its parts.  Second, they found out that organizing was harder than they thought.

David Bonior, a former congressman and one of Obama’s early Secretary of Labor candidates, has been shepherding these reunification talks.  According to reports, among the issues being addressed are: how the Federation will be modified, who will lead it, how the leadership role itself will be structured (it’s been suggested, without much support, that the president’s job be rotated), and what the name of the reunified organization should be.

Apparently, there are some die-hard CtW’ers who vowed never to return to any entity called the “AFL-CIO,” and want the Federation’s name changed.  On that score, those folks need to be reminded that “brand name” recognition is a precious commodity.

Also (and this is subjective), when it comes to assigning names to organizations, the group who coined “Change to Win” should be taken out behind the woodshed and whacked.  In this era of glib seminar-speak, that name sounds like the product of an unholy coupling of a self-help author and Human Resource manager.

By any reckoning, the reunification of these two labor federations is welcome news.  Clearly, the AFL-CIO is far from perfect.  Maybe it’s a battleship in an age of speed boats.  Undeniably, it is subject to those same bureaucratic diseases that infect any large, unwieldy organization, and, like bureaucracies everywhere, is stubbornly resistant to change.  But, flawed or not, it remains labor’s most viable entity.

As for Change to Win, give them credit for trying to reinvigorate and redirect the American labor movement.

The reunification is far from a done deal.  There’s lots of potential drama still incubating.  One person the AFL-CIO is touting for president (to replace Sweeney, who’s 74 years old and won’t be seeking re-election) is Richard Trumka, formerly of the United Mine Workers and currently the AFL-CIO’s Secretary-Treasurer.

While Trumka is a respected officer, and is reported to be lobbying energetically for the job, CtW hard-liners are opposed to him.  They want a new face in there, someone they see as less inbred, less beholden to the Old Guard, someone not so closely associated with “business as usual.”  On the other hand, as former mutineers who sheepishly paddled back to the boat, CtW can’t expect to call the shots.

DAVID MACARAY, a Los Angeles playwright (“Larva Boy,” “Borneo Bob”) and writer, was a former labor union rep.  He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
Alycee Lane
Trump’s Federal Government Shutdown and Unpaid Dishwashers
Martha Rosenberg
New Questions About Ritual Slaughter as Belgium Bans the Practice
Wim Laven
The Annual Whitewashing of Martin Luther King Jr.
Nicky Reid
Panarchy as Full Spectrum Intersectionality
Jill Richardson
Hollywood’s Fat Shaming is Getting Old
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Wide Sphere of Influence Within Folklore and Social Practices
Richard Klin
Dial Israel: Amos Oz, 1939-2018
Graham Peebles
A Global Battle of Values and Ideals
David Rovics
Of Triggers and Bullets
Elliot Sperber
Eddie Spaghetti’s Alphabet
January 17, 2019
Stan Cox
That Green Growth at the Heart of the Green New Deal? It’s Malignant
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail