Date: Wed, 11 Feb 98 11:01:51 CST
From: "Workers World" <email@example.com>
Organization: WW Publishers
Subject: Strengthening the house of labor
Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the February 12, 1998
issue of Workers World newspaper
Strengthening the house of labor
Workers World Editorial
12 February 1998
The AFL-CIO is getting bigger.
A lot bigger
On Jan. 26, the country's two teachers' unions announced
that they had reached agreement on a merger plan. When the
National Education Association and the American Federation
of Teachers complete the merger in 2002, the union will
count a total of 3.2 million members. It will be the biggest
union in U.S. history.
The merger will be completed two years after the other big
consolidation currently under way--the one joining the
United Auto Workers, United Steel Workers, and International
Association of Machinists. So the house of labor will have
two big new powerhouses as it embarks on a new century of
The NEA is already the biggest union in the country, with
2.3 million members, almost a full million more than the
Teamsters. But it is not an AFL-CIO union. The NEA's
unaffiliated status has been a glaring weakness for both it
and the AFL-CIO. Merging with the 950,000-member AFT, and
affiliating with the AFL-CIO, will correct that.
Uniting all unionized teachers is a great step forward.
With the resources and solidarity of labor lined up behind
it, the union will be immeasurably strengthened. It will be
able to better fight for its members in contract
negotiations, defend them against the ever-increasing
attacks from the right wing--and wage new organizing
campaigns, especially in the South, where teachers are
woefully underpaid and overworked.
In turn, the big new teachers' union will strengthen the
rest of the labor movement. The AFL-CIO will now encompass
every major national union except the United Electrical
Workers. The labor federation has revived in these last two
years, pushing organizing and promoting a more combative,
militant stance. There's more of an emphasis on solidarity,
both in word and deed. The infusion of a whole new group of
workers will reinforce that trend.
The character of the new AFL-CIO union is also
significant. NEA and AFT members are overwhelmingly women. A
high proportion, especially in the big cities, are people of
color. The new union will reflect the strategic importance
of women and people of color to labor. These workers make up
the majority of the U.S. work force. They are key to labor's
Most important, teachers are workers--relatively low-paid
workers, at that. For many years, the NEA was oriented
toward operating as an organization of "professionals"
rather than a union of workers, but that tendency has faded
over the years. The NEA has for the most part functioned not
only as a union but as a progressive one, allied with
movements for civil rights and against all the right-wing
attacks on education.
The AFT, in contrast, always considered itself a union.
But under the leadership of Albert Shanker, it developed
into one of the most right-wing unions in the AFL-CIO. In
1968 in New York, Shanker led the AFT's biggest local, the
United Federation of Teachers, in a racist "strike" against
the Black community's demands for community control of the
schools. A committed Cold Warrior, Shanker actively
supported and worked with the CIA in its efforts to
undermine the workers' states of Eastern Europe. When
Shanker died last year, his UFT protégé Sandra Feldman
succeeded him as head of the AFT.
According to reports, Feldman will not lead the new union.
NEA President Bob Chase will. Chase is already a leader of
the struggle against all the current right-wing proposals to
undermine and de-fund the public schools. He's also a
veteran of defending the union against right-wing demagogy,
like presidential candidate Bob Dole's attacks in 1996.
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