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Date: Sat, 28 Mar 98 14:18:22 CST
From: "Workers World" <ww@wwpublish.com>
Organization: WW Publishers
Subject: AFL-CIO organizing runs into political attack
Article: 31055
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.18825.19980329121528@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the April 2, 1998 issue of Workers World newspaper

AFL-CIO Executive Council meets: New organizing runs into political attack on unions

Shelly Ettinger, Workers World
2 April 1998

Coming together at a moment of contradictory challenges and opportunities, the AFL-CIO Executive Council met in Las Vegas March 18-20.

The resort town is the scene of a massive multi-union organizing drive that is expected to make Las Vegas the most unionized city in the United States.

By meeting there, the labor movement's top officials underscored their stated priority: organizing. Much of their discussion focused on how to bring in new union members, especially low-paid women workers.

But labor's renewed emphasis on organizing and its revived fighting spirit--shown most strikingly with last summer's victorious Teamsters strike at United Parcel Service--have enraged the bosses. At the same time, with corporate profits rising, there are signs that workers want to fight for higher pay and improved benefits. This too has alarmed the capitalist class.

So at the Las Vegas meeting, the AFL-CIO leadership had to focus on defending the labor movement from the intensifying attack the bosses are mounting.

One part of that attack is the war against the Teamsters union and its president.

Ron Carey did not attend the Executive Council meeting. Carey is on leave while he fights to defend himself and his union. At a crucial moment, then, the AFL-CIO is without the services of one of its most militant leaders.


The House subcommittee "investigating" the Teamsters is set to open a new round of hearings March 26. Subcommittee Chair Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Education and Workforce Committee Chair Rep. William Goodling, and House Speaker Newt Gingrich met March 18 to plan strategy for this next stage of the anti-Teamster attack.

According to a March 19 report in the Washington Post, the three discussed issuing a new set of subpoenas to force the union to turn over all its financial records.

This situation was undoubtedly a prime topic in private sessions at the Las Vegas meeting. Yet AFL-CIO President John Sweeney did not publicly denounce the persecution of Ron Carey.

Sweeney missed an opportunity to take a forthright stand in solidarity with Carey and the Teamsters. It would have been especially timely had Sweeney linked the attack on Carey with the other attacks he and the Executive Council did address.

For example, the union leaders said they would work to swiftly defeat a bill headed for a House vote the week of March 22. Goodling introduced the bill. He calls it the "Fairness for Small Business and Employees Act of 1998."

Goodling's bill would allow employers to fire workers who sought their jobs for the purpose of organizing a union. It would also change the labor law to make it harder for unions to organize workers at individual stores, restaurants or nursing homes in a chain.

Two years ago Congress used that same tactic--forcing a union to organize an entire company spread out over the country rather than letting it target specific locales--to pass a law specifically intended to stymie union organizing at Federal Express.

Another bill, the so-called Paycheck Protection Act, would bar unions from using membership dues to fund political activity unless they get each member's express consent.

Acknowledging that this bill may not pass, the anti-labor forces are taking a page from their own book: employing the same tactic with which they won "right-to-work" laws barring union shops in about half the states. They're turning to a state-by-state strategy to push through measures barring unions from using dues for any but the most limited purposes.

In California, Proposition 226 is a statewide version of the "Paycheck Protection Act." Voters there will decide on Proposition 226 in the June 2 primary.

The business class sees it as a great weapon against the unions. The bosses are pulling out all the stops to win its passage.

Gov. Pete Wilson is fully behind Pro position 226. So is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which also backs similar measures in 30 other states.


In Las Vegas March 19, the Executive Council voted to ask each of the AFL-CIO's 72 member unions to make a special one-time contribution of $1 per member to the federation's political-mobilization fund. This would bring in $13 million more than the $15 million already approved.

The money is to be earmarked to fight Proposition 226 and the other anti-labor bills on the national and state levels. It will also go toward fighting to win a raise in the federal minimum wage. On March 19 Sen. Edward Kennedy introduced a bill to raise the minimum by 20 percent, to $6.15 an hour.

The money will also be spent on backing politicians' election campaigns. A troop of them made appearances in Las Vegas.

Labor Secretary Alexis Herman, House Minority Leader Richard Gep hardt and Vice President Al Gore all addressed the Executive Council. President Bill Clinton spoke to a group of Electrical Workers union apprentices.

In fact, the big-business media portrayed the Las Vegas meeting as though its main item of business was support for Democratic Party politicians. The media essentially defined the Executive Council as cheerleaders for the Clinton administration.

The Las Vegas meeting would have strengthened organized labor much more if Sweeney and the leadership had challenged that definition--for instance, by announcing bold new initiatives to mobilize the workers on a mass scale.

Everything on labor's agenda--raising the minimum wage, expanding and winning organizing drives, winning more funding for child care, making every employer provide free family health care for every employee, defending affirmative action--all this demands mass mobilization. And bringing the workers into action is certainly the way to drive back the ruling-class attacks now pounding the labor movement.

Anything less is inadequate to the task. Relying on lobbying? Behind-the-scenes maneuvering? Campaigning for politicians whose only interest is union money and labor votes?

None of this will defeat the attacks or move the workers' movement forward.

Since the government opened the latest phase of its war against the Teamsters union--also threatening action against AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka and several national union presidents--the labor leadership has seemed stuck. Apparently, they are unsure about how to proceed in light of the attacks.

So they have allowed some of the momentum and excitement built up in the first two years of the new AFL-CIO to ebb. Labor should respond by going on the offensive. As they say, the best defense is a good offense.


Before the Executive Council met, the AFL-CIO Working Women's Department held a two-day conference in Las Vegas. The topic was organizing women workers.

How important is this? The AFL-CIO has concluded it's vital to the organized-labor movement's future.

Working Women's Department head Karen Nussbaum presented the results of a new study that showed:

  • Women are more likely than men to join unions. In a survey, 49 percent of women who do not have a union said they want one, compared to 40 percent of men.
  • Women now make up 40 percent of union membership.
  • In the last 10 years, the number of male union members has dropped almost 12 percent. The number of women members has risen 8.6 percent.

The changing face of the unions is due in part to the capitalist restructuring that resulted in the loss of many good-paying union jobs held mostly by men. But Nussbaum said another phenomenon has not been adequately emphasized: the entry of masses of women into the paid work force in the last 30 years.

Women now make up almost half the work force. Soon women will be the majority of paid workers. Nussbaum said it took a while for that to be reflected in stronger participation in the unions, but it is now happening.

"The true face of the unions is not now a man in a hard hat as much as it is a woman in a classroom or in cleaning smocks," Nussbaum said.

AFL-CIO Organizing Director Rich ard Bensinger said: "Women are about the most exploited and angry workers in the country. We have got to recruit them."

(Copyright Workers World Service: Permission to reprint granted if source is cited. For more information contact Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011; via e-mail: ww@workers.org. For subscription info send message to: info@workers.org. Web: http://workers.org)

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