Solidarity or Prelude to Raiding War?

The AFL-CIO is taking a new approach to the recent defection of several large unions. One of the big worries has been that the split up would make it difficult or impossible for unions to cooperate on a local level. The Fed came out swinging with a hardline statement banning locals from the split off unions from participating in central labor bodies and ordering that officers of central labor bodies from the disafilliated unions must resign. Now they have created “Solidarity Charters,” which they will grant directly to local unions, by-passing their international leadership (there is also a report in the Cleveland Plain Dealer). To quote the AFL-CIO press release:

“It’s not these locals’ fault that their national unions left the AFL-CIO, and it’s not working people’s fault. They shouldn’t have to bear the brunt of a decision by their leadership,” said Sweeney. “Solidarity Charters will allow unions to work together and let working people still benefit from a united grassroots movement that works for good jobs, health care, and a voice in issues that matter to them.”

I’m sure you’ll be shocked to know that the Change to Win unions don’t see it that way. Their press release says “faced with a revolt at the local level, the AFL-CIO has taken a position that uses the rhetoric of unity but is designed to provoke unnecessary division.” Specifically, they object to the detailed provisions of the Solidarity Charters, which place some heavy demands on individuals and locals from the disaffiliated unions.

My read is that some of the provisions of the Solidarity Charters are just about the money that makes these organizations work. That’s fine. After all, the central labor bodies and the AFL-CIO have budgets to meet, people to pay, goals to reach, etc. And the central labor bodies are part of the AFL-CIO structure that the Change to Win unions rejected. So sure, the AFL-CIO has every right to demand that unions pay up their dues if they want to be part of the central labor bodies.

But–and I’m really trying to be objective here–the overall thrust of the deal feels punitive once you get into the fine print. It seems aimed at turning local unions against their internationals, and enforcing a political loyalty test on returning individuals and locals. Let me point out one provision–one very convoluted provision. According to the Solidarity Charters description, local unions granted these charters must:

Recognize that no individual who is a member of a union not affiliated with the national AFL-CIO, even if that local union has obtained a Solidarity Charter, may run for or hold executive office in the central labor body in that capacity; provided, however, that such local unions shall otherwise have the same participation and voting rights applicable to affiliated unions in the central labor body. This restriction on holding office shall not apply to incumbent officers from a disaffiliated union under the following conditions: (a) the officer commits to supporting within his or her union the reaffiliation of their national union with the national AFL-CIO; (b) the officer’s local union applies for and receives a Solidarity Charter no later than September 30, 2005; and (c) the Executive Board or delegate body of the central labor body concurs with the officer remaining in office for the remainder of his or her unexpired term;

Is anyone else confused? I thought solidarity was supposed to be easy. If I’m not mistaken, this provision says 1) even if your local union get a Solidarity Charter you can’t be an officer of a central labor body unless you’re already an incumbent officer, and 2) if you’re an incumbent, you have to take a stand against the leadership of your international (both as an individual and your local has to vote the same by Sept. 30!), then you can keep you office through the end of your current term, after which you’re out for good. I certainly hope I’m reading this the wrong way, because it doesn’t seem like much of a deal. And what would happen if local unions of the SEIU or Teamsters started coming out against the international? They’d get hammered by their own international leadership. Maybe even expelled. And then where would they go? Ex-SEIU locals into AFSCME. Ex-Teamster locals into the Steelworkers.

Meanwhile, as Workday Minnesota points out, the deal is not open to independent unions or unions that have been disaffiliated for a long time. So this is not about opening up central labor bodies to community wide organizing. It’s only aimed at those unions who are part of the latest conflict.

I’m uneasy about this. Very uneasy.

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