[Marxism] Ralph Nader on AFL-CIO dispute

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue May 10 09:45:56 MDT 2005

Published on Monday, May 9, 2005 by CommonDreams.org
A Clash of Unions
by Ralph Nader

With U.S. union membership down to only 8% of the workers in the corporate 
sector - the lowest in 90 years - a clash of unions is underway within the 
AFL-CIO over the future direction of organized labor. The unions 
challenging the leadership of President John J. Sweeney - the Service 
Employees International Union (SEIU), Teamsters UNITE and the Laborers - 
want more of member unions dues to the AFL-CIO returned for expanded 
organizing and want more mergers among the 76 existing national unions.

Beyond what they call "restructuring", it is remarkable what they are not 
demanding, other than new leadership this year from their own ranks. They 
are not focusing on the fundamental corporate attack on unions, workers 
and, via corporate globalization, the American economy itself.

To be sure, these "rebel" unions do not see themselves as affected by WTO, 
NAFTA and the shipment of whole industries and jobs to authoritarian or 
dictatorial countries such as Mexico and China. SEIU represents service 
workers, retail, hospital and other jobs not easily shifted abroad.

But as long-time United Autoworkers' reformer, Jerry Tucker declared, the 
insurgents' declaration of Principles makes "only passing reference" to 
"the sustained destruction of decent jobs, the systematic forced reduction 
in wages, benefits and working conditions. And, little attention is paid to 
labor's inability, or unwillingness, to collectively marshal its forces to 
confront management's concerted aggression at the center of the crisis 
facing U.S. unions today."

Indeed in a long profile-interview of SEIU's president, Andrew Stern, in 
the New York Times magazine, there was no mention of the critical need for 
labor law reform to jettison the many obstacles to and opportunities for 
corporations and their union-busting law firms to smash any incipient 
organizing drive in factories or other large low-pay corporate workplaces 
like Wal-Mart.

In no other western country do such facile obstructions exist in law. In no 
other western country do the top executives of the largest corporations 
have compensation so massively larger than their workers. In 2002, the CEOs 
were averaging $7400 per hour (apart from perks and benefits), while their 
workers were making anywhere from $6 to $26 per hour. Tucker drives his 
point home this way: "Fifty years of business unionism, abetted by an 
evolving legal framework, have all but eliminated the most democratic of 
worker expressions, direct action. . . . .What's also missing in today's 
debate among the union heads is anger, a deep and resolute class-anger. . . 
Ours is a crisis with millions of victims. Those victims are being attacked 
by enemies - corporate and governmental - with a shared ideology. Labor 
should not shrink from condemning that ideology."

The AFL-CIO has pressed their Democratic allies in Congress to sponsor the 
Employee Free Choice Act, designed to remove some of the unconscionable 
obstacles to collective bargaining drives. By April 2004, the bill had 179 
sponsors in the House of Representatives and 31 in the Senate. Not bad. But 
did you ever hear Kerry (a sponsor) or Edwards give this bill any 
punctuation marks in their many speeches and debates? Have you heard any of 
those sponsors, other than Senator Ted Kennedy, go out of their way to 
highlight this legislation?

The Chamber of Commerce building in Washington is full of energetic 
anti-union officials. They are even plotting to further weaken an already 
anemic OSHA which is supposed to do something about the more than one 
thousand Americans who die from workplace diseases and trauma month after 
month. The AFL-CIO headquarters is almost next door. I have never heard of 
the AFL picketing the Chamber's building, where its arrogant 
arch-adversaries are so immersed in their war on workers.

The bureaucratization of the labor movement has drained away the steam, the 
spirit, the grass roots militancy that characterized organized labor in the 
Nineteen Thirties and Forties. The late Tony Mazzocchi, who founded the 
Labor Party (visit thelaborparty.org) was keenly aware of this basic 
lethargy - a lassitude extended to organized labor's automatic support, 
without heightened and insistent demands, of the Democratic Party. A 
showdown may be coming between the insurgents and the Sweeney 
administration at the AFL-CIO Convention in late July. Already four of 
these dissident union presidents are demanding that the names of their 
members be deleted from the AFL-CIO's grand computerized list of 13 million 
union men and women. These unions represent about a third of the total 
AFL-CIO 13 million plus households.

According to a union insider, the rebel unions do not have the votes to 
topple Sweeney. He estimates there are 4,578,867 per capita votes against 
Sweeney and 6,566,605 per capita votes for another term for the AFL-CIO leader.

If this is so, SEIU and other allied unions may bolt the labor Federation, 
further weakening the AFL-CIO in an age of corporate gigantism, corporate 
globalization and corporate government.



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