Licked at the Polls, Unions Debate Reform

With declining membership, an exceedingly hostile NLRB, and the re-election of Bush despite yet another “all or nothing” get out the vote drive for the Democrat, the AFLCIO has launched a discussion about organizational reform. I haven’t slogged through everything yet, but wanted to post links to the major proposals.

Initially the proposals were coming from only a few unions, especially the Service Employees (SEIU). But this now seems to have become as close to an open debate as we’ve seen since the 1930s. At that time a group of unions that wanted to organize mass production industries led a rebellion within the AFL against unions who wanted to stick to organizing skilled workers. After a year of internal division, the industrial unionists left the AFL to form their own union federation–the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). Are we headed in the same direction?

Here are links to the major policy papers:

Official AFLCIO Discussion:

“It’s time to talk about the future of America’s union movement. How should we strengthen the union movement for the future? What will it take to give working families the power we need to balance corporate power? How do we make the most of the solidarity and energy of the 2004 presidential election campaign? And most important, what will it take for the union movement to grow?”

Links to Specific Proposals for Change:

    Unite to Win (sponsored by SEIU):

    “The rich keep getting richer in America today, while big corporations search the globe for cheaper labor.  Meanwhile, our jobs are less secure.  Most of us are working longer and harder.  Rising health care costs are making coverage unaffordable and forcing costly strikes and lockouts in union contract negotiations.”

    Teamsters: “American workers and workers the world over need a strong U.S. labor movement. Without it, the inexorable global race to the bottom will lead to further inequality, further erosion in basic wage, labor, and social standards, and further limits on political democracy.”

    Communication Workers of America (CWA): “Democracy in the workplace is the basis for popular support for collective bargaining, provides the best foundation for union organizing, and should provide a framework for union infrastructure at the local and national levels as well as for the AFL-CIO. It is widely accepted that there is a collective bargaining crisis in the US driven by the worst management repression of workplace rights in any democracy. CWA believes that active union members are the best and only hope for reversing this, and that unions must invest much more in mobilizing our members.”

Harry Kelber’s article “What’s Wrong with Both SEIU and CWA Plans for Revitalizing the Labor Movement” ( is a good critique from the perspective of a labor educator with a long interest in union democracy. Kelber also has a Blog:

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