Labor's Voice for Change (24) April 7, 2009

A Proposed Plan Would Give Ten Biggest Unions
Control over a Corporate-Style Labor Movement

By Harry Kelber

A select group of leaders of the AFL-CIO and Change to Win have been meeting secretly with David Bonior, a former Michigan congressman, to create a structure for a united labor movement, with the possible addition of the National Education Association (NEA), with its 3.2 million members.

What can be learned about the plan thus far is that the ten largest unions would dominate a united labor movement, replacing the AFL-CIO Executive Council and the CTW Leadership Council. Also, representatives of the ten unions, acting as a sort of board of directors, would select a president and secretary-treasurer, who would be responsible to the directors, not the union membership.

There would be no need for national elections, since the ten largest unions would represent more than two-thirds of the entire union membership. All the major functions of a labor federation, such as organizing, political action, education and international affairs would be under the control of the ten unions, who presumably would delegate responsibilities to lower echelons under their authority.

One of the major problems of the new plan is what happens to the 40-odd international unions that are left out of the new governing leadership? Are they to be governed by the Big Ten? Are they to be ordered to find partners for a merger? What if they canít, or donít want to? Itís not yet clear what solutions the Bonior conferees will come up with.

Obviously, the state federations and central labor federations will have to be restructured, probably with less staff resources and authority. It is expected they will be closely supervised by the Big Ten staffers.

But what about union members? What do they get out of the new plan? How will it improve their conditions? The Bonior plan for labor unity deals with the distribution of leadership positions. There is no evidence that the Big Ten would have a unified plan to increase union membership or bargaining strength.

As to the NEA, while its president showed an interest in joining a united labor movement, it is by no means certain that its members will want to be partners with the AFL-CIO and CTW. The NEA, founded in 1857, is primarily interested in the cause of public education. Only in recent years have some of its 14,000 community branches begun to function as a union. It would take at least a year before the NEA could complete is vote on the issue, favorable or not.

There has been some talk that the Bonior plan is motivated by a desire to reform the labor movement. What reforms are they talking about? The AFL-CIO and the CTW have been status quo labor federations for years. If they were really interested in reform, they could change their constitutions to allow candidates to run for national office in free and fair elections.

The need for labor unity is still a paramount goal, but it must not be used to promote corporate unionism. The Bonior plan should be shot down at the AFL-CIOís September 14-17 convention in Pittsburgh.

Article 25 of ďLaborís Voice for ChangeĒ will be posted Thursday, April 9, 2009.