Labor Split Looming?

LABOR SPLIT LOOMING?….Nathan Newman reports that the AFL-CIO is close to a crackup. The basic point of contention is between a group of unions led by Andy Stern’s SEIU, who want to focus like a laser on recruiting new members, and a competing group of old-line industrial and public employee unions, who mostly want to protect their existing membership. Nathan thinks a split might end up being for the best:

Ironically, a split in the AFL-CIO could lead to more unity. The SEIU-led coalition goal is to create organizing unity among its five unions ? plus probably the Carpenters. And the rest of the remaining AFL unions will no doubt feel pressure to unify more of their organizing drives or see the new coalition moving in on their territory. This is exactly what happened in the 1930s when the formation of the CIO led to the AFL back then launching a massive organizing drive, something the CIO unions had been demanding but something those unions refused to do until they had the pressure of an alternative federation breathing down their neck.

I’m inclined to agree. Sure, other things being equal, unity would be better than a split, but other things aren’t equal. The two main factions within the AFL-CIO ? young and growing vs. old and protective ? have fundamentally different objectives, and given labor’s sorry state these days it’s hard to see it turning around via a long series of murky compromises.

The best bet is for the SEIU faction to secede and try something genuinely new. Sure, it might not work, but the alternative definitely won’t work: union membership in the private sector has careened downward for over three decades, reaching an anemic 7.9% in 2004, with no end to the bloodletting in sight. Even GM hasn’t sucked that badly.

It’s time to take a chance and try something dramatically new. If the rest of the AFL-CIO can’t see that, I wish the dissenters the best of luck.

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