Skip to comments.A tough year for the AFL-CIO
Posted on 07/20/2005 3:46:38 PM PDT by rhema
The AFL-CIO is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, but don't expect any champagne to be flowing at the organization's annual convention next week. It's been a lousy year -- indeed a miserable several decades -- for Big Labor. With union membership falling to historic lows and the unions' political clout on the wane, even while unions pour, literally, hundreds of millions of dollars into politics, the coup de grace for the AFL-CIO may come at the convention itself. Five unions, including the federation's biggest, have announced they will pull out of the group unless the AFL-CIO changes its focus to organizing new members. But even these dissident unions seem clueless when it comes to what really ails the shrinking labor movement.
Less than 8 percent of private sector workers belonged to a union in 2004, and, overall, only 12.5 percent of American workers carry a union card -- down from about one-third of workers in labor's heydays in the 1950s. If it weren't for compulsory union membership laws in 27 states, the number would no doubt be even lower.
The unions claim the deck is stacked against them when it comes to labor laws, but the truth is many private and public sector workers are forced to pay union dues as a condition of their employment, yet they have little say in how the unions spend their money. Despite court rulings that grant union members the right to withhold that portion of their dues that goes beyond negotiating and administering the union contract, most union members -- 78 percent according to one poll -- are in the dark about their rights, and the unions themselves want to keep it that way. Nor has the National Labor Relations Board, the federal government's chief enforcement agency, done much to force unions to inform their workers of their rights.
So how did unions spend their members' money last year? The 1.8 million-member Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the largest union in the AFL-CIO and the one spearheading the threats to pull out of the federation next week, spent $65 million not organizing new members but trying to defeat President Bush and Republicans in Congress. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees spent $48 million in the same, failing effort. The AFL-CIO spent $44 million trying to defeat Bush, and the Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA) spent another $8 million in the same quest.
But this is only the tip of the iceberg. These unions also gave millions to so-called 527 organizations, which can collect and spend unlimited amounts trying to elect or defeat candidates. According to its own press releases, the SEIU alone gave $26 million to America Coming Together, an anti-Bush 527, while the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) gave $1 million to the Media Fund to run ads against the president and Republicans. All of this money came from union dues, not from the voluntary contributions unions collect through their Political Action Committees, which spent an additional $52 million in the 2004 election cycle, 86 percent of it going to Democrats.
Some 43 percent of voters in union households voted for President Bush in 2004, according to exit poll data. But these union members have virtually no say in how their unions spend their hard-earned money. Next week's vote among AFL-CIO union leaders won't change that one whit. The president of the SEIU, Andy Stern, claims he wants the AFL-CIO to spend more on organizing new members and brags that his own union spends half its budget on signing up new members, a boast that is impossible to verify given the arcane methods unions use to hide their finances. But the AFL-CIO dissidents are among the worst offenders when it comes to wasting their members' dues on politics. Enforcing union members' right to withhold that portion of their dues that goes to politics would do more to reform the labor movement than any phony bolt from the AFL-CIO.
The unions have no influence for the same reason that black communities have no influence. One side can count them in their pocket, and thus need not respond to their concerns; the other can count on their opposition, and thus has no reason to respond to their concerns.
Lesson: being a party partisan is a recipe for self-marginalization.
I hope this thread does not degenerate into Limbaugh style union bashing, using generic talking points.
That said, the reign of John Sweeny as head of the AFL-CIO has been a disaster. The man is little nmore than a Democratic party hack that is none too bright, and he damaged unions at the time they least could afford it. Under his "leadership". while the AFL-CIO became energized politically, and in fact, was the main force that helped Democrats on the congressional level in the 96 elections spending tens of millions in that election, not to mention spending millions in 95 attacking Gingrich on medicare(gee what does medicare have to do with job security?), this cost the AFL-CIO the votes of many GOP reps and Senators that could have been sympathetic to many union issues such as the issue of fair trade. At the same time, many Democrats abandoned the pro labor camp because they had nothing to fear from the Sweeny ran AFL-CIO because it became hyper partisan, so the result was nothing was done about China pegging the RMB to the Dollar to the 90s, the vote on the WTO accord in 2000 and the artifically strong dollar the Clinton admin pushed after 95, all that badly hurt private sector unions badly. He did not hold supposed pro labor Democrats feet to the fire, while again, potentially sympethic Republicans had nothing to gain politically by casting "free trade" votes. The result is the mess we have today.
The final insult to injury came about 4 years ago, when Sweeny became pro amnesty for illegal aliens. This is jaw dropping stupidity, because the bigger the pool the workers, the greater difficult it is to organize workers to unionize, much less prevent unions from being broken.
All and all, a complete failure is what Sweeny represents.
Unions should exist for two reasons.
1. Collective bargaining.
2. Employee advocacy.
Unions have no business in politics or spending hard working Americans $ on lobbying.
I guess you can only scare people for 40-50 years huh?
Exactly. And like the black community, the position of unionized workers is weaker than ever. The damage Sweeny has done just boggles the mind.
Interesting article ping!
One of the major factors in the demise of labor unions is that their lobbying efforts have made them extraneous. Over the years they have successfully lobbied various levels of government to legislate things that unions used to work hard to win in the collective bargaining process. Now that we have minimum wage laws, Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, mandatory "family leave," etc., these unions have become pretty useless.
I saw that notice once in my union newspaper. The print was so small I had to use a magnifying glass to read it. IIRC that was required by he BECK V ELECTRICAL UNION decision.
The first goal of present union leadership is socialism, internationally. American interests are, to them, of no interest. I used to be a union member; I got another job that requires no union membership - and it pays better, and I do not have to pay dues to support political agenda that oppose my interests!
The unions abused their power. Now they merely suck canal water.
Linda neglects to mention that of those millions of dollars flowing to the dems, some percentage winds up in the pockets of the union thugs and their relatives. The union leaders in the US look to the socialist unions in Europe as the model, always failing to undestand that European classism condemns European union memebers to a perpetual socialist servitude. We work in the US to build and own. We are capitalists, they are socialists. US unions are incapable of seeing this distinction even though the children of yesterday's union leaders are building and owning, themselves.
I will agree that by the 70s, unions started to badly abuse the power they had, and hurt many industries, such examples are workers who made $15 hr(equivlent to $60 hr now) back in 1975 for assembly plant jobs who often had no care about quality or quanity of work.
That said, there is a balance to be had. Like it or not, unions had a fairly big role in the rise of the middle class in the US after WWII, allowed factor workers to send their childern to college, that provided a technological base the US built on. It also allowed workers to own more property, and with more to lose, they started to vote for canidates that would be for policies that allowed them to keep more oftheir properties/possesions. These workers provided the winning votes for Reagan in 1980(and in 1966 in the CA gov race), hence the Reagan Democrat. Workers who own little, who rent tend to vote in far higher percentages for Democrats, and had there not been a big middle class that rose after WWII, my guess is the US would be every bit the socialist "democracy" that France is now.
I do think with the race to the bottom in the US, with job outsorucing, importing of cheap and usually illegal labor now, more and more workers(mostly non union) will have little or nothing to lose when they vote. That is somthing that should chill many people.
Europe ended up like it did because there wasnt the growth of the middle class like there was in the US after WWII. A large middle class that owns property, has somthing to lose so to speak will have far less tolerence for a big govrenmnet, a population of renters, those who have little property, as developed in much of Europe after WWII will embrace Socialism.
While many of todays Union leaders such as Sweeny are basically Socialists, and disgraces to the workers they are supposed to represent, it was the unions after WWII, under the leadership of the anti communist George Meany that helped provide the US with a large middle class, and in part, because of a large middle class is the reason whythe US did not go fully socialist in the 60s, despite a large amount of pressue from the elites to do so.
"I hope this thread does not degenerate into Limbaugh style union bashing, using generic talking points."
She is making calls, pulling string, calling in any and all favors and doing everything she possibly can to keep the Union from splitting.
We are about to find out if she has any juice what so ever, because if she can't pull this off and stop the split, it basically means, she doesn't have the power of crap.
"It's been a lousy year -- indeed a miserable several decades -- for Big Labor"
The AFL-CIO just doesn't seem to get it ... Why?
Could it be, that like beating a dead horse to death, their backing a dying DemOrat party that believes in higher taxes, abortion, sodomy, hates America, that loathes our military, that gives aid and comfort to the enemy? Hmmmm, appears to be a no brainer.
And I was just thumbing-through "Stranglehold," a book about the rise and decline of unions. Thanks.
Sad how people do not go beyond cheap rhetoric. Here is a question, if unionists were all alike, then why were union members key to Reagans victory in 1980? Why did Bush get over 40% of union members vote last year?
Like it or not, a large number of union members have helped bring issues such as 2nd amendmnets rights and the abortion issue to the political forefront, because these are issues they deeply care about, so much for your theory that they all are alike.
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