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June 15, 2005

Five Unions to Exit AFL-CIO?

Today looks to be a big day for labor as five unions announce their plans to demand reform in the AFL-CIO or leave the federation. And in the meantime, they are forming a committee for joint organizing campaigns -- a nice historical echo of the original Committee for Industrial Organizations which existed within the AFL in the 1930s before it seceded from the federation back then.

The big news is that yesterday the United Food & Commercial Workers authorized its leadership to seceded from the AFL-CIO if the coalition's proposals are rejected. The UFCW wasn't even part of the original New United Partnership dicussions last year, so the fact that they are signed on for secession makes the whole thing more likely.

In the linked article, Harold Myerson worries that this would split "the movement" and make organizing Wal-Mart or fighting Tom Delay harder.

I don't actually buy this. It's not like unions are united today in launching massive organizing drives, which is the argument of the SEIU-led coalition. Today, unions regularly fight each other for the same workers-- CWA fighting HERE-UNITE over California Indian casion workers, SEIU and AFSCME fighting over child care workers, and all sorts of unions fighting over various health care constituencies.

Ironically, a split in the AFL-CIO could lead to more unity. The SEIU-led coalition goal is to create organizing unity among its five unions -- plus probably the Carpenters. And the rest of the remaining AFL unions will no doubt feel pressure to unify more of their organizing drives or see the new coalition moving in on their territory. This is exactly what happened in the 1930s when the formation of the CIO led to the AFL back then launching a massive organizing drive, something the CIO unions had been demanding but something those unions refused to do until they had the pressure of an alternative federation breathing down their neck.

This may be unity of two competing blocks, but that's better than 57 separate unions all doing their own thing as happens today.

As for political work, the unions are already working through labor-community coalitions like America Votes and ACT, so as long as both sides continue to do so, they can coordinate political work through those institutions.

So the split in labor is big news, but in many ways it's probably less big news or at least less bad news than many analysts may fear.

Posted by Nathan at June 15, 2005 09:21 AM