Volume , Number 0
There are no articles.Commentary
There are no articles.Culture
There are no articles.Features
War & Peace
Nicolas J.S. Davies
Means of Production
There are no articles.
NOTE: Z Magazine subscribers and sustainers have access to all Z Magazine articles here and in the archive. The latest Z Magazine articles available to everyone are listed in the Free Articles box at the top of the table of contents, and are starred in the list below. Questions? e-mail Z Magazine Online.
AFL-CIO Leaders Move Forward
A re you worried about the future of the labor movement? Are you working longer hours for less money than workers like you have for decades? Have you noticed the rapid decline of union power in your workplace and our society?
If you’re a union member in the U.S., the answer to these questions is likely “yes, yes, and yes.” What you should also know is that, in the past year or so, some union presidents have come to the conclusion that labor’s crisis is now so severe that drastic, immediate action is necessary.
To some officials, the leaders of SEIU and UNITE HERE in particular, this crisis is largely a function of the labor movement’s size and structure. These unions argue that the labor movement’s decline in power is a result of its declining membership and that unions are not able to organize effectively because the AFL-CIO’s structure doesn’t make sense.
Certainly, it would be hard to argue that the AFL-CIO’s structure is good for workers. In 1988, Labor Notes co-founder Kim Moody wrote about the “decline of industrial unionism” in his book An Injury to All . Moody noted that unions such as the Teamsters, SEIU, CWA, UFCW, and the UAW had largely abandoned the model of one union representing one industry and were picking up new members wherever they could. This was not, Moody made clear, strengthening workers’ bargaining power.
But size and structure don’t equal power, though they are important factors. The Teamsters and UAW were both massive unions that had the auto and trucking industries densely organized as recently as the 1970s, yet both suffered severe declines in their core industries over the past three decades. This decline was partly due to actions taken by employers and the government and partly due to the unions’ own failures.
The Teamsters and UAW were, and are, business unions. Starting with Chrysler in 1979, the UAW has led the way in accepting concessions on wages and benefits for its members and also took the lead in working with employers to implement lean production and labor-management cooperation programs (which ultimately had a devastating effect on union power) in the workplace.
The Teamsters did little to fight trucking deregulation in the early 1980s and supported the employers’ demands for a two-tier wage scale and other concessions in the second National Master Freight Agreement in 1983.
Neither union has displayed a willingness to use creative, militant tactics to fight the employers. Neither union has tried to organize the non-union workers in its own traditional industry through a widespread, member-based, strategic campaign.
Both unions are antidemocratic, with leaders preferring to keep their members uninformed, disengaged, and far removed from decision making.
Other forces, political and economic, were at play in these unions’ declines, but complacent, incompetent leadership combined with disempowered, disengaged membership were certainly critical factors. We can argue about different models, but if we can’t effectively use the power we have now, it’s unlikely we’ll be able to do much better after we’ve shuffled a bunch of members into different unions with the same policies.
Moreover, the very idea of shuffling members from union to union illustrates that union leaders are oblivious to one key point, which is that unions’ internal culture and functioning differ greatly from each other.
Shifting members from SEIU into AFSCME, for example, doesn’t just mean that an activist who wore purple now wears green—it means shifting workers who had participated in SEIU’s internal political life and learned how to navigate through its constitution, bylaws, and political landscape into a new environment where they don’t know the ropes and, at least initially, will find it harder to exert member control.
Though they have a lot to say about structure, the unions pushing restructuring have not yet come to agreement on how to achieve their model. SEIU’s plan, as laid out in their Unite to Win proposal, is to give the AFL-CIO Executive Council the authority to force union mergers, revoke union charters, and shuffle members around however they see fit. UNITE HERE and the Teamsters have a softer approach—the Teamsters have proposed encouraging unions to merge by providing financial incentives.
Yet Teamsters President James Hoffa clearly agrees with SEIU that the AFL-CIO executive council needs to have more authority over its affiliates. Hoffa even takes it a step further, proposing that the size of the executive council be reduced to representatives of the 10 or 15 largest U.S. unions.
SEIU President Andy Stern immediately stepped forward to praise Hoffa, signaling the appearance of an unlikely alliance between a union with a reputation for innovative and progressive practices (SEIU) and a union notorious for internal corruption (the Teamsters).
Teamster corruption under the Hoffa administration is more than just rumor. Former federal prosecutor Ed Stier—who had directed the Teamsters’ internal anti-corruption program, Project RISE—resigned from his post in April 2004, saying that “organized crime” threatened the Teamsters and that “Jim Hoffa is no longer committed to an aggressive effort to clean up the union.”
More recently, in January 2005 Hoffa’s chief of staff Carlow Scalf was caught embezzling $69,500 in union funds—and given no more punishment than a two month suspension, with the possibility of returning to his job, which remained open. These types of embezzling scandals have been a recurring theme under Hoffa’s regime.
Corrupt leaders like Hoffa have long been one the labor movement’s biggest problems. Any serious proposal for reforming the AFL-CIO should include strengthening rank-and-file reform networks so that union members could take power and give leaders like Hoffa the boot.
These union leaders’ brainstorms have prompted responses from other union leaders, but, as Bill Lucy—head of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists—has noted, these leaders have done little to encourage participation from the folks who have the most at stake: rank-and-file members.
Lucy also notes that while black workers make up 30 percent of organized labor’s ranks, the unions pushing restructuring have not made any concerted effort to have people of color’s interests represented in these debates.
SEIU recently launched a website (www.unitetowin.org) “as a tool for open debate” about the future of the labor movement, but emails and weblog postings are no substitute for real conversation.
Local union meetings, conventions, and other mechanisms for face-to-face discussion about labor’s future are already in place. Members should use these mechanisms to debate these proposals, which may have a great deal of impact on how much power they will have in their unions and workplaces in the years to come.
This article was written before the March 2005 meeting of the AFL-CIO Executive Council. Coming out of this meeting, an alliance has formed that appears poised to challenge AFL-CIO President John Sweeney at this summer’s AFL-CIO Convention. The alliance—led by SEIU, the Teamsters, UNITE HERE, and UFCW —was most aggressive at the meeting in pushing for a massive dues cut from the AFL-CIO, rather than forced restructuring of the federation. As Herman Benson of the Association of Union Democracy wrote in January 2005, SEIU and the other unions who began these debates by calling “for a crusade to reorganize the world of labor” look like they’d be ready to settle for a tax cut.
William Johnson is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; email@example.com; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; firstname.lastname@example.org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: email@example.com; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; email@example.com.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; email@example.com; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: email@example.com; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.