You may be aware of what has happened over the last few days at the AFL-CIO Convention, where the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (Teamsters) have announced their plans to leave the Federation, as the AFL-CIO is commonly known. SEIU and the Teamsters head a new coalition of dissident unions, known as the Change to Win Coalition, joined by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), Laborers International Union of North America (Laborers), UNITE HERE (the textile, garment, and hotel employees), and the United Farm Workers (UFW). As the events unfold in Chicago, some very capable bloggers are on the story. Rather than take sides or attempt to analyze all that has happened in this complex situation as it unfolds, we’ll present some of the best commentary out there from the blogosphere, highlighting some blogs worth noting even when they’re not writing about this subject.
Jonathan Tasini’s Working Life: Jonathan is a long-time labor writer and former head of the National Writer’s Union. His commentary, written from the floor of the Convention, is among the most knowledgeable and insightful out there.
But, here’s the most immediate question that the delegates cannot ignore: How does the AFL-CIO replace the $20 million that it will lose with the disaffiliation of these two huge unions? Do the Federation officers have a plan for increasing the per capita taxes at this convention? Because if they don’t, then, severe cuts will need to be made–on top of the large staff cuts that just took place in the past couple of months.
I don’t see how President Sweeney, on the eve of his certain re-election, can avoid giving the convention delegates a straight answer about how the Federation will survive financially without major steps being made.
Yesterday, I suggested that the delegates need to be told specifics about the money issue….This is the big elephant in the room–and it has to be noticed before it leaves a huge dump for affiliates and central labor bodies to clean up.
From the coalition’s standpoint, they see it as a matter of a gap of principles and programs for the future. It wasn’t just the difference in dollars between what should be invested in organizing versus politics–which, at the AFL-CIO level, wasn’t a huge difference. It was, as they see it, a difference in how to redefine the purpose and power of the AFL-CIO, both by streamlining what it did and also giving it more authority to hold member unions accountable, particularly for organizing strategies. Is there a labor book to be written, “You Just Don’t Understand!!!”
Tim Nesbitt: Oregon AFL-CIO: Tim is also reporting from the Convention floor and has some thoughtful things to say.
Last November, as this debate was heating up, I compared our union movement to our country before we had a strong central government:“When it comes to organizing, our unions have to agree on where they want to concentrate their efforts. Workers will be better served if we coordinate more and compete less. But our Articles-of-Confederation structure, in which unions have the autonomy of separate states but only limited agreements on their territory, hasn’t been conducive to concentration, much less coordination. Planting a flag in an unorganized workplace shouldn’t be the way for a union to lay claim to new organizing opportunities. We need agreement on a new map for organizing in the global economy, new strategies for contesting corporate power and commitments to help each other win, industry by industry.” To continue the analogy to the AFL-CIO’s constitutional convention that began today, we just learned that four states decided not to send delegates, and two of those states decided to set up their own government. So it appears that our unions will soon have two models of governance to choose from.
The debate was a mixture of hope and hard feelings, alarm and reassurance, recrimination and rededication – laced with more energy than I’ve witnessed at any union gathering since I had to duck chairs at a New York City taxi drivers’ meeting in 1968. But it was less a debate about program and more about approach, not at all about where we need to go and all about how to get there. Most of all, it seemed to be a contest of wills: Who wants it more passionately? And passions ran high on both sides.
Nathan Newman: Not Such a Big Deal
In a contrarian mood, I think people are making too much of the “split” in the labor movement, as if labor hasn’t continually been in internal tussles between unions, whether they were in or out of the same labor federation. Yes, a few unions won’t be paying dues to the AFL-CIO. And as for fears this will disrupt unity in political operations among unions, there has never been coordination except when individual unions want there to be.
Bill Fletcher: Why the split is a big deal
the great Un-debate showed an amazing capacity to ignore the rank & file, and particularly to ignore the issues and involvement of trade unionists of color. i find this especially damning for those labor leaders who have positioned themselves as visionaries. If the base is not in the vision, except as the object of the work of ‘great leaders,’ what sort of movement are we building?