Thursday, November 11, 2004

Unions in trouble

Another Democrat special interest looks inward on why the Democrat candidate lost.

As the nation's union leaders gather today in Washington the labor movement is in turmoil, with the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s largest union hinting that it might pull out of the labor federation and some labor leaders saying that John J. Sweeney may face a challenge for its presidency.

In a sign of the jockeying and soul-searching, Andrew L. Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, the A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s largest union, called yesterday in a letter for far-reaching changes in labor designed to increase its membership, proposing a $25-million-a-year campaign to unionize Wal-Mart and a near doubling in the amount spent annually on organizing.

The meeting comes as long-simmering differences in the A.F.L.-C.I.O. have been intensified by President Bush's re-election, with many union leaders fearing retaliation because organized labor spent more than $150 million to try to defeat him.

"The labor movement was really shaken by the election and they're also badly divided," said Kate Bronfenbrenner, a labor relations professor at Cornell University.

Unions are also feeling a sense of crisis, largely because the percentage of workers in unions has plunged to 13 percent from nearly 35 percent in the 1950's and because corporations are cutting back health benefits and pensions.

In recent months, Mr. Stern, whose union, with 1.6 million members, is the nation's fastest growing, has warned that the service employees might break away from the A.F.L.-C.I.O. - a federation of 60 unions and 13 million workers - unless the federation embraces major changes to reverse labor's decline.

Mr. Stern said in his letter to the 54 members of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s Executive Council that President Bush's victory had intensified the need for change. "When only 13 percent of the American work force is in unions, our ability to win national elections is limited,'' he said. And he said he wanted a vote on proposals for change before the president's inauguration in January, instead of at the labor convention in July. Mr. Stern's call for broad restructuring has fueled fierce divisions, even causing one union, the International Association of Machinists, to warn that it might quit the A.F.L.-C.I.O. if Mr. Stern prevails in his push to remake the federation.

This story is quite amazing. Stern must think that the point of union is to "win national elections" and he can't do that if union membership is down. What he perhaps doesn't understand is why union membership is down. One reason is that union leaders more and more don't relate to their rank and file workers' interests by spending millions of forced union dues, not on collective bargaining, but on losing left wing political candidates while many of those same workers end up voting for the guy who other side, which in this case was Bush.