[Documents menu] Documents menu
Message-Id: <199802121906.OAA52750@listserv.vt.edu>
Sender: owner-imap@webmap.missouri.edu
Date: Wed, 11 Feb 98 11:01:51 CST
From: "Workers World" <ww@wwpublish.com>
Organization: WW Publishers
Subject: Strengthening the house of labor
Article: 27532

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 worker struggle.

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 future.

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.

(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)

[World History Archives]     [Gateway to World History]     [Images from World History]     [Hartford Web Publishing]