AFL-CIO Convention Days 3 and 4: Inspiring Resolutions & Internal Tensions

by Michael Hirsch

Not-at-the-AFL-CIO-Convention-Join-the-Conversation-Online_blogpostimageLOS ANGELES–If you go by a strict reading of the resolutions passed at the AFL-CIO convention that concluded Wednesday, this is a solidly progressive organization ready to speak with brio for all working people and not just its millions of current members and retirees. Calls for a smooth transition to citizenship for new immigrants, an alternative to the politics of austerity, organizing and acting in solidarity globally, significantly improving Obamacare leading to health care for all, ending mass incarcerations, organizing the South, and supporting workers of all sexual preferences are great stands.

So is building up the state and local labor federations as active community organizations, supporting higher education and ending student debt and—most of all—actively and uniformly cooperating with militant social movement organizations on their goals, too. These resolutions marked the just concluded Los Angeles convention. In key ways affiliated unions, especially in the public sector, are already on board in practice. Continue reading

The AFL-CIO and “Alt-Labor”

by Clayton Sinyai

This week witnesses thousands of trade unionists and labor activists assembling in Los Angeles for the 27th Constitutional Convention of the AFL-CIO.  With union membership continuing to decline, the federation has been seeking new approaches to advocate for American workers.

The labor movement’s reach peaked in the early 1950s, when some one-third of US workers belonged to a trade union. This pinnacle was achieved under labor relations system created by the Wagner Act in 1935: workers voted in government-supervised election campaigns to decide whether they wanted collective bargaining and if so, which union would represent them. Labor and management would then negotiate a contract; the workers, now union members, would enjoy improved wages and benefits and pay dues to support their union in return.

In recent decades this system has broken down. Employers now campaign aggressively to discourage their employees from voting for union representation, often going beyond legal bounds (labor board investigators find this thousands of workers each year suffer such unlawful retaliation). Under these conditions unions have not succeeded in organizing enough workers in the new service sector and technology jobs to offset declines in traditional union strongholds like manufacturing. Continue reading

Delegates Commit AFL-CIO to Grow Labor Movement Through Diversity, Inclusion

On the heels of last week’s groundbreaking young worker and diversity conference, delegates to the AFL-CIO 2013 Convention reaffirmed the federation’s commitment to grow an inclusive labor movement dedicated to issues that will build strength for and share prosperity with women, young workers, people of color and LGBT workers.

The trio of first-day resolutions addressing inclusion in the labor movement focused on the need for the AFL-CIO itself to continue and increase its efforts to ensure that the face of the union movement and its decision-making bodies at all levels—national, state and local—reflect the face of today’s diverse workforce.

The AFL-CIO Women’s Initiative Convention resolution says women’s equality is a “shared struggle” and despite a half a century of major gains, “women still don’t have equality.”

From the resolution:

We stand with women and insist on: Equality in pay and opportunity for all; the right of women to control their own bodies and be free from violence; and the right of every woman to meet her fullest potential and the opportunity to serve—and lead—her community. Nothing less.

It also commits the AFL-CIO to work “toward shared leadership to represent the makeup of our membership.” About 45% of union members are women. The resolution outlines four vital strategies to “grow the labor movement, revitalize democracy, respond to the global economic crisis and build durable community partnerships.” Continue reading

AFL-CIO Convenes in Los Angeles, Day 1

by Michael Hirsch

Not-at-the-AFL-CIO-Convention-Join-the-Conversation-Online_blogpostimageWelcome to the City of Angels, where Richard Trumka, the federation president and former minerworkers’ union leader promises the beginning of a new, militant and more inclusive labor federation. The slogan: “Dream, Innovate, Act.” The plan: organize the unorganized, including much of the 89 percent of the U.S. workforce that is not in a labor union. And do it in tight and mutually beneficial co-ordination with movements of feminists, youth, people of color, the LGBTQ community and those in the workforce who are among the lowest paid and whom even many of the Federation’s own affiliated unions have traditionally ignored.

The effort, waged by the national staff and aimed at encouraging and building stronger local central labor councils as a spur if not a counterbalance to the International unions that historically dominated the federation could be epochal. One hopeful observer in attendance, the National Organization for Women’s Terry O’Neill, said  that she saw the effort she strongly endorses as “not just transactional, but transformational.” Or, it could lend itself to a cynical reading by those of us who’ve long advocated a broad, fighting social justice unionism as just one more effort to extend a late-summer vacation in sunny southern California to fulltime union officials.

Certainly the rhetoric is bracing and welcome. A foretaste of the new course came at a solidly attended Sunday morning preconvention “diversity conference” under the name “Building a Diverse Movement for Shared Prosperity: In Our Workplaces—in Our Communities —In Our World.” In a late morning press briefing, where Trumka assured the media that the effort “didn’t begin here and won’t end by the time the convention closes on Wednesday.” Continue reading

Labor’s Love Lost Over Obamacare?

Steve Early

Steve Early

Like many labor negotiators, I looked to health care reform for legislative relief from endless haggling with management over employee benefit costs. My own union and others worked hard for passage of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) three years ago. Despite its failure to take health insurance issues off the bargaining table, as a more preferable Medicare-for-All system would do, Obamacare was widely cheered by labor.

Union members were told, correctly, that the ACA would expand Medicaid access for millions of lower-income Americans and make private insurance coverage more consumer-friendly for everyone else. Organized labor also expected the new law to aid union bargaining by leveling the playing field among all employers, much like the minimum wage and other protective labor legislation does. Continue reading

Here’s What You Said: Building a Stronger Labor Movement for People of Color

In our [AFL-CIO’s] second online discussion on how to build a stronger movement for working people, Dr. Steven Pitts, labor policy specialist at the University of California, Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, asked you: “Union density is higher among black workers than it is for any other racial or ethnic group of workers. How can the labor movement use this to build a stronger movement for social change?”

The question generated a thoughtful and lively discussion that will help us prepare for the 2013 AFL-CIO Convention that will focus on how the labor movement should change and what we can do together to improve the future of all working people.

Below are excerpts from some of your answers. Go to our discussion page to see the entire dialogue.

Continue reading