Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Debacle in the AFL-CIO

If you need a simple way to comprehend the recent fissure in the labor movement, consider this: union members had no say in the decision either way. Within my own union, I can probably count on one hand how many of my coworkers were even aware the split was happening, let alone solicited for their views by leadership. (The decision to disaffiliate from the AFL-CIO was made by our president and general executive board exclusively--and presented to the membership in a scant, upbeat home-mailing after the fact.) This tendency to exclude members from the central decisions that affect their organizations is what's really wrong with the labor movement; it is the problem that transcends all others.

If there are going to be any creative solutions to the challenges that working people face today, they should be coming from working people--not representatives who claim to know their best interests while shutting them out of the debate. Unfortunately, the post-WWII tradition of American business-unionism (the state-corporate initiative to replace grassroots, democratic unionism with a service-style form of representation structured like a business) is only being reconstituted in a more contemporary form among "dissident" leaders like Andy Stern (SEIU), who want to "market" unionism by creating "brand names" that will re-inspire confidence in their "service." That all sounds well and good, but if the product--wages, benefits, pensions, etc.--fails to be satisfactory for the members, where is the savvy "consumer" supposed to go?