September/October 2005 Vol 5, No. 7
Nurse’s Union Leader: ‘The Top 10 Problems in the Labor Movement’
By Rose Ann Demoro
1. There are no real ideological disputes, in part because the current AFL-CIO leadership and programs were, mostly, put in place by those now challenging them. It appears to be more about egos and an effort by specific unions to anoint themselves as the group who should control the AFL-CIO.
2. No workers or rank and file union members are involved, and it is their labor movement. Much of the discussion is based on recommendations of consultants and Madison Avenue approaches such as branding, polling and focus groups, and controlled blogs, rather than engaging the membership and the public on helping shape the future of the labor movement.
3. No issues affecting the majority of working Americans are being debated—declining real wages, the health care crisis, the continued erosion of democracy in the workplace, outsourcing of jobs across the skill and pay spectrum, a deteriorating social safety net, declining support for public education, environmental degradation, social justice and ongoing racial and gender inequality, alienation and disaffection from the political process.
4. No real solutions to these problems are being proposed—curbing corporate control of the political and economic system, single payer-universal health care, a progressive tax system that restores fair share taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals, taking corporate money out of politics, a new industrial trade policy, a peace, not war economy as well as a strategy for reforming repressive/crippling labor laws and enforcement bodies.
5. The specific proposals by the Change to Win group are structural and bureaucratic, not programmatic—rebating union dues, forcing unions to merge, limiting the executive council to the largest unions, and claiming sovereignty for unions by industry or sector based on a union’s density in that area. There is no evidence any of these changes would solve labor’s problems.
6. The notion that the salvation of the labor movement reduces to “density as manifest destiny” is historically false, and analytically shallow. Equally, for the unions that are proposing the monopolistic changes, seemingly self-serving. Some unions that have achieved density have been decimated by corporate sponsored political, economic, and social policies. Besides, forced mergers are anti-democratic and could silence the voice of the most active and militant unions and union leaders.
7. If the issue of organizing was simply dues rebates we could all rest easy. But that notion is painfully oversimplified. Some unions in and out of the Change to Win unions are organizing within the current structure, others have not organized for years. Even if the AFL-CIO paid per capita to some of these unions they still would not or could not organize. And forcing mergers is not synonymous with organizing, and in fact could silence the voice of the most active and militant unions and union leaders who are fundamental in building this labor movement.
8. Perhaps because the corporate right is so extreme, some “progressive” analysts have been portraying the dues rebates and proposed forced mergers as core issues. But more troublesome are those pundits who write glowingly about the Change to Win group’s greater expansion of labor-management partnerships with their corporate-friendly cost-savings schemes, worker speed-up programs, explicit endorsement of globalization, deskilling, outsourcing and privatization as labor’s salvation. These proposals can only serve to further alienate the American worker from the labor movement, further erode labor’s power and harm the very society-wide communities with which labor needs to align and nurture.
9. Limiting the executive council to the biggest unions would further reduce the influence and voice of women and people of color in labor leadership.
10. No discussion of non-bureaucratic strategies are on the table—including expanded coalitions with non-labor community, religious and environmental groups; active grassroots education and mobilization campaigns to challenge the corporate/far right agenda; building genuine political independence and holding the Democratic Party accountable to worker and public interests, and serious consideration of—imagine, a labor party for a labor movement.
Rose Ann DeMoro is Executive director of the California Nurses Association.
—CounterPunch, July 21, 2005