Labor's Voice for Change (27) April 16, 2009

Sweeney’s Memo on ‘Reunification’ Plan Reveals
New Questions About Those Secret Meetings

By Harry Kelber

Responding to reports that top leaders of the AFL-CIO and Change to Win were considering the formation of a new, united labor movement that would include the 3 million-member National Education Association (NEA), AFL-CIO President John Sweeney sent a memo on April 8 to all Federation affiliates that said: “The AFL-CIO is America’s Labor Federation and it will not yield its role to a coordinating committee of any kind.”

Sweeney blamed “some significantly incorrect press reports that were issued following the most recent meetings held earlier this week,” and stated:

“However, the AFL-CIO will not be disbanding to start anew. It will not be subordinating itself to or merging itself into any other organization, and it will not be abandoning its historic mission of fighting for economic, social, political and workplace justice at every level.”

Actually, I was the one who wrote the story of the recent ‘reunification’ meeting that so angered Sweeney. In my “Labor’s Voice for Change column, dated April 7 — one day before the Sweeney memo — my two-line heading said:

“A Proposed Plan Would Give 10 Biggest Unions
Control over a Corporate Style Labor Movement”

The article went on to say that under the plan, there would be no need for national elections, since the 10 biggest unions constituted a majority of the total membership. The Big 10 would hire a president and a secretary-treasurer, who would be completely responsible to them Organizing, politics, governance and international affairs would be largely centralized under the new leadership.

Something would have to be done about the AFL-CIO’s 40 smaller international unions that would be outside the power structure. State Federations and Central Labor Councils would be given fewer staff and resources and be closely monitored by central headquarters

In a ‘Reunification’ Plan, Only Leaders Count, Not Members

So now, it’s public knowledge that, for several months, self-selected leaders of the AFL-CIO and Change to Win have met secretly with David Bonior, the former Michigan congressman, who would serve as a “facilitator,” to decide how to rebuild a united labor movement, but one that will serve each of their own special interests,

Like all trade unionists, I strongly believe that a united labor movement is essential. That’s the only way we’re gong to organize millions of workers and win some decent economic and political concessions for working people.

But Sweeney and his pals on the Executive Council have a dismal organizing record after 14 years in office. And the Change to Win, with all its high hopes, has also failed miserably.

It is clear as day; we’ll need lots of new, dedicated union leaders. That’s the only way a united labor movement will grow, have closer ties with union members, and do a better job serving working families.

At the AFL-CIO’s 2009 convention, there will be annual elections for the three top executive officers and the currently 44 vice president seats on the Executive Council. We must insist on an open and free election process in which all candidates are listed on a properly-designed printed ballot. Candidates will have to publicize their record and be available for debate at a public forum.

We can have a meaningful united labor movement — if we are ready to work for it. What the AFL-CIO Needs Are New Leaders
With Fresh Ideas and an Inspiring Vision

Article 28 of “Labor’s Voice for Change” will be posted on Tuesday, April 21.