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Sender: o-imap@webmap.missouri.edu
Date: Fri, 6 Dec 96 21:38:27 CST
From: rich%pencil@UKCC.uky.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: AFL-CIO and the Electiony [Investment in Democrats]
Article: 1919

/** headlines: 139.0 **/
** Topic: AFL-CIO and the Election [Investment in Democrats] **
** Written 9:27 AM Dec 5, 1996 by newsdesk in cdp:headlines **
/* Written 4:28 PM Dec 2, 1996 by thepeople@igc.org in thepeople.news */
/* ---------- "AFL-CIO and the Election" ---------- */

AFL-CIO Investment in Democrats Could Backfire

By Ken Boettcher, in The People, Vol. 106, no. 9
December 1996

The leaders of the AFL-CIO have long used their positions to persuade members of their unions to work for, support and vote for political agents of the very class that exploits them. Toward that end, they have consistently promoted the theory that the "friend of labor" politicians thus elected would serve workers' interests and help to assure their prosperity. Despite claims that new leadership would bring new strategies to the AFL-CIO, that new leadership's conduct during the 1996 election had a very familiar look about it.

Early in the campaign, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney told striking workers in Detroit "that if they vote like workers, 'we will have a workers' victory this November. And then we'll keep on coming back again and again until this nation respects the work we do and rewards us for the contribution we make.'" How union members voted on Nov. 5 isn't known, but the results of the election are--and they are not quite what Sweeney was looking for.

The "workers' victory" Sweeney had in mind was a Democratic Congress and president. To win that "victory," the AFL-CIO passed a special dues assessment amounting to $35 million-- although it has been reported that only about $28 million was collected--to promote Democratic and vilify Republican candidates. A typical admonishment was that of Machinists President George J. Kourpias, who earlier this year urged activists to "dress up Bill Clinton with coattails"--meaning they should work to elect a Democratic-controlled Congress to support Clinton.

All this from leaders of the same labor federation that, through the AFL-CIO NEWS, then its official voice, described the last Democratic-controlled Congress they helped get workers' votes for as "the foot-dragging, finger-pointing crowd that...held up labor's agenda [sic] in the 103rd Congress."

Last month, BUSINESS WEEK claimed that, "Even if the Democrats win [Congress and the presidency], unions don't expect a big payback." It quoted Gerald W. McEntee, head of the federation's political committee and president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, as saying: "The next Congress will revolve around moderate Republicans and [conservative] Democrats, and our strategy has to take that into consideration."

The AFL-CIO's "strategy" for the future reportedly revolves around spending less money on lobbying and more on "grass roots" organizing. "Sweeney plans to mount...[local] campaigns after the election on issues such as sweatshops and workers' rights in world trade agreements," said BUSINESS WEEK. "He hopes this will both strengthen unions' political clout and fuel the local activism that feeds recruitment drives."

However, the AFL-CIO's prospects for enlisting new members in appreciable numbers must depend on the leadership living up to the boasts that led to its being elected. The political strategy Sweeney's administration adopted during the campaign was virtually identical to what the federation has followed all the way back to the days of Sam Gompers. If that's all Sweeney's "dynamic new leadership" has to offer, the AFL-CIO may be headed for bigger troubles than it already has.

Indeed, Sweeney wagered a sizable hunk of AFL-CIO funds on the election, and any objective assessment of the results would have to conclude that it didn't pay off. While Sweeney may argue that it would have been worse if the gamble had not been made, the results fell far short of what rank-and-file members were led to believe their money could buy. Before Sweeney has a chance to offer another example of where his dynamic leadership is taking the AFL-CIO, he may have a little in-house damage control to attend to. A $35-million hole in the AFL-CIO's treasury should open at least a fair-sized credibility gap within the federation. Who knows, it may even open a few eyes!

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