Date: Sat, 28 Mar 98 14:18:22 CST
From: "Workers World" <email@example.com>
Organization: WW Publishers
Subject: AFL-CIO organizing runs into political attack
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
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.
TEAMSTERS TO BE GINGRICHED
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
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
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
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
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.
POLITICAL MOBILIZATION OR WORKER MOBILIZATION?
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
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
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
None of this will defeat the attacks or move the workers'
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.
WOMEN WORKERS ARE THE UNIONS' FUTURE
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
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."
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