« Georgia: Taxpayers Must Fund Sweatshops | Main | States and Employer-Paid Health Care »

May 05, 2005

Sweeny v. Stern: Is There Still A Reason To Care?

If you had asked me that question a week ago, I would have answered a most vigorous YES. The more I had seen of Andy Stern, and the more I had heard about his 'vision' for the American labor movement, the less I had come to like it, and while Sweeney was nothing to write home to Mom about, he looked better and better by comparison.

But after the Sweeney scalpel has cut much of the good that the AFL-CIO does to shreds, destroying the health and safety and international solidarity sections of the federation and decimating much else, and after that scalpel has been left firmly planted in the back of some of labor's best and most loyal advocates, I find myself wondering if I have a horse in this race. If John Sweeney can downsize with the best of the corporate slashers, why should we prefer him to Andy Stern?

Stern remains completely unpalatable. As I have listened to him these past months, it struck me more and more that the language of business he habitaully uses -- how competition in the American labor movement was healthy, how the current configuration of the AFL-CIO was a 'restraint of trade,' how the AFL-CIO was a 'business model' that didn't work, how the AFL-CIO need to be more like American Southwest and less like US Air -- reflected a vision of the labor movement that marginalizes what has to be at the core of a vibrant labor movement, values of solidarity and democracy. The focus on union density seemed to rely more upon a conception of union as a business that needs to be sized to fit a market than any strategic conception of union power, and his cyncical overtures to the psuedo-union of the Chinese market totalitarian state betrays a complete disregard for elemental principles of solidarity, let alone democratic unionism. As lightly as the term 'business unionism' is often tossed about in parts of the trade union movement, Andy Stern seems to be the genuine article. And until this week, John Sweeney seemed a whole lot better than Stern's AFL-CIO, INC.

But when Sweeney decided to destroy the AFL-CIO village in order to 'save it' from the Stern forces, one is left asking what is left worth defending. It might even be better for the Stern gang to be in charge, so that they can at least be formally accountable for what they do, than to have their program enacted by Sweeney, so they don't even have to take responsibility for their actions.

It's a sad day for the American labor movement, and I don't see better days immediately ahead of us.

Leo Casey

Posted by Leo Casey at May 5, 2005 04:59 PM