Reasons Why the AFL-CIO Is Broken;
Let Us Start a Debate on How to Fix It

The third of a Series of Five Articles

By Harry Kelber, Editor, The Labor Educator

April 25, 2011


If the AFL-CIO is to be restored as labor’s influential voice for working people, its three top executives and Executive Council must agree to free and honest elections and the right of union members to run for high office.

The Old Guard that now controls the AFL-CIO refuses to change the Constitution, because in its present form, it guarantees them re-election without opposition from any candidate.

Under the convention rules, a delegate from a big international union can command as many as 25,000 or more votes, while a delegate beside him or her will have only one vote. It’s outrageously unfair; it disenfranchises union members and their representatives, especially at AFL-CIO conventions.

The democratic solution is to give each convention delegate a single vote. That’s the structure in organizations everywhere. The “One Delegate, One Vote” has been used by the Canadian Labor Congress and labor federations around the world. Why not the AFL-CIO? Because the Old Guard doesn’t want to give up its monopoly of power.


A big rap against the AFL-CIO is that its top leader, President Richard Trumka, talks tough, but manages to avoid direct action. Wall Street has learned from its own experience that AFL-CIO leaders can bark, but they don’t bite.

In Washington., the AFL-CIO has little credibility and relevance with Congressional Democrats and the White House, even though political contributions by unions are always welcome

Now that millions of union members are in a rage that 10 major corporations did not pay a penny in federal taxes for 2010 and that the average pay of a CEO last year was $11.4 million, what has the AFL-CIO done about it? Nothing except talk, talk, talk.


If the Executive Council was really serious about fighting corporate greed, here are a couple of things it could do:

Hold mass sit-ins and continuous picketing at the headquarters of each corporation, until they pay their proper share of current and past taxes to the U.S. Treasury Department.

Send an army of union members to Capitol Hill to occupy the offices of Democrats and Republicans until Congress eliminates the subsidies, grants and special favors they bestow on these corporations, especially those that outsource good American jobs.


The nation’s corporations and their vociferous right-wing allies have launched the biggest anti-union campaign in decades in order to cripple Organized Labor economically and politically.

Republican governors and their compliant legislatures have introduced dozens of anti-union bills in states across the country that ban collective bargaining and the right of public employees to strike. Heavily-funded efforts are being made to establish more “Right to Work” states that would make it very difficult to organize non-union workers.

But union members, once passive, have been energized and are gallantly fighting the anti-union barrage in Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Missouri and other Republican-led states.

And what about our AFL-CIO leaders? Why aren’t Trumka and the 43 members of the Executive Council in the forefront of these historic struggles?

In these critical times, when giant corporations and their right-wing allies are waging an all-out war against unions with the aim of destroying them, we need labor leaders who are tigers, not pussy cats.

Article 4 will be posted here on May 2, 2011 and on our two web sites and on

Comments are welcome.