When a pot really begins to boil, it's hard to keep a lid on it.
Labor resistance to capital's merciless demands is bubbling up, from the Kaiser aluminum strikers in Washington state to the Caterpillar and Staley workers in Illinois to thousands of government workers around the country marching for their jobs.
There is dissatisfaction everywhere with the ineffective response of the top AFL-CIO leadership to a reactionary bosses' offensive that is tearing the guts out of unions around the country.
That's why, when national union leaders met in Bal Harbour, Fla., beginning Feb. 21, the usual winter meeting of the AFL-CIO council quickly turned into what might have been unthinkable a few years ago: an emergency executive session to discuss whether or not to replace President Lane Kirkland with someone more militant.
There have been only four presidents of the central labor organization in its 109-year history, and the other three either died in office or left of advanced age and illness.
The opposition to Kirkland is reported to include Richard L. Trumka of the United Mine Workers, Ron Carey of the Teamsters, Gerald McEntee of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and John J. Sweeney of the Service Employees International Union. These are some of the biggest unions in the federation, and the last two are especially feeling the impact of the massive government budget cuts.
The Clinton administration has done little to recommend itself to labor. But it doesn't want to lose what's left of the alliance between the unions and the Democratic party that began with the Roosevelt New Deal. And it wants to keep Kirkland in.
So Vice President Al Gore went to the meeting and put forward what was really a gimmick: a vague promise for an executive order limiting government purchases from companies that hire scabs. It was a very watered-down version of legislation the administration had earlier abandoned. And it seems full of loopholes. But it gives Kirkland something to wave in front of his opponents.
So far, no one in the leadership of the union movement is proposing anything more than defensive strategies against the offensive of the ruling class. But even that would represent a sign of change from the non-struggle strategy of the AFL-CIO that has characterized the Kirkland leadership.
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