Sunday, July 24, 2005

A Mega Union: Really?

The AFL/CIO is meeting this week to discuss basically the future of the mega-union. However, there are huge fissures in the union movement today. Labor rank and file seems to understand the current political and economic landscape much better than Labor leadership does. They understand their economic realities and the oft confusing distinctions between the two parties, while leadership is in a perpetual catch up mode. 

The rank and file knows not every Democrat coming down the pike is necessarily pro-union, and not all Republicans are anti-worker. They understand that for unions to be successful (12% of the workforce now compared to 37% in 1960); they must reach out and support pro-labor candidates where ever they can find them. They know that Labor needs friends on both sides of aisle just like corporations, who have friends on both sides. You can’t fight with only one arm. Why should unions be expected to?

Case in point, I am the state chair of small union affiliated with UAW and AFL/CIO, the National Writers Unions. I belong to the Central Labor Council. My wife is a retired Teamster. We both belong to the Retiree Local 89. I am also Republican. I ran against a conservative non-union "good ole boy" Democrat with a poor Labor voting record, I received no support from Labor leadership, and yet just under half of my volunteers (approximately 15 people) were active or retired union members. 

Look at the Governor’s race. Here in Kentucky, all of the union leadership endorsed Democrat Ben Chandler on behalf of their union, while the majority of union membership voted vote for Republican Ernie Fletcher. it would have been less embarrassing to have allowed the members to vote without intimidation or manipulation and gone with their choice. The same story is repeated everywhere throughout the country, especially in the Northeast.

Until unions have a political party of their own (as every other Western nation does), it must look pass the letter behind a person’s name. They must look at whether or not the candidate supports the basic tenets of the union movement. If the candidate is or has been in office, then examine their voting record regardless of their party affiliation. Don’t assume anything. 

If it’s predominantly pro-labor, then support that individual. If not, then find someone else who is. Unions aren’t an arm of the Democratic Party and shouldn’t be treated that way by either party. And never should the union vote be taken for granted. As for me, I believe in and trust the rank and file to make the right decisions over union "leadership" any day of our hardfought 40 hours workweek. 

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