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May 17, 2005

Dissident Unions Lay Out Agenda

SEIU, the Teamsters, UNITE-HERE and the Laborers released their joint vision for the labor movement-- with the UFCW and the Carpenters considering signing on in the coming weeks.

It's not very different from what SEIU has been promoting or what the old "New Unity Partnership" was discussing last year (not surprisingly since it's mostly the same players), but it's significant that these unions have signed onto the details:

  • Spending half the AFL-CIO's budget for helping individual unions organize;
  • Promoting consolidation of unions;
  • Supporting campaigns against Wal-Mart and other targets too large for any single union to organize.

    To understand the most fundamental disagreement between the existing unions supporting John Sweeney and the dissident unions, read this section:

    As the recent election shows, even our maximum political efforts fall short for the simple reason that we are too small. We believe that our movement can and must organize and grow on a mass scale today, because that is the only way to bring true change in the direction of our nation.

    We are confident that American labor’s resources are sufficient — if properly aligned and leveraged — to serve as the economic and organizational foundation for a new movement to successfully organizing the millions of workers who hold out hope for the American Dream. And we are certain that if we do not act quickly and decisively, our strengths will be squandered and it will be decades before they are recovered.

    Pay attention to that italicized word "today", which was emphasized in the original. Some unions argue that they need to achieve political change in the national government to create the environment necessary for broad growth of the labor movement.

    What SEIU et al are stating is that unions have all the power they need to expand if they act strategically.

    This is a fundamental disagreement with unions who believe that focusing on politics should be the focus for joint union action.

    Of course, both sides believe in both organizing and political work, but this difference is more than a matter of emphasis; it is a fundamental difference in evaluation of the strategic situation the labor movement faces. The political and legal environment for unions is harsh in the United States today, yet the new union alliance argues that labor can succeed nonetheless without additional political changes, that in fact political change will only happen if labor first succeeds in organizing new workers.

    So that's the real divide today in labor-- this confidence that organizing, if properly supported, can succeed today without fundamental political change versus the belief that labor needs to focus on politics as a precondition for labor success.

    Posted by Nathan at May 17, 2005 08:06 AM