Democrats watch in horror as union base falls apart
Tuesday 26 July 2005
Hostilities broke into the open on Sunday when four large unions announced that they were boycotting the annual convention of the AFL-CIO, which got under way in Chicago yesterday. It then emerged that two of the four were likely also to withdraw from the alliance altogether.
The two departing unions, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union, have 1.4 and 1.8 million members respectively. Their revolt represents a body blow - both in morale terms and financially - to the AFL-CIO and was being described as the worst rift in the labour movement since 1930.
It risks further undermining union strength in the United States which has been in decline for decades, eroded by dwindling membership rolls, the effects of automation, the relentless rush to improve productivity, and the ramifications of globalisation and increased world competition.
The AFL, the American Federation of Labour, and the CIO, the Congress of Industrial Organisations, broke away from one another in the 1930s. However, they merged again in 1955 and this year's convention was meant to be a celebration of that 50-year marriage. In all that time, the AFL-CIO, roughly equivalent to Britain's TUC, has been the voice of organised labour in the country.
But while roughly one in three workers in the private sector belonged to a union in America half a century ago, only 8 per cent do so today. The relentlessness of that decline and the political environment now makes union power still less credible and has given rise to the tensions of today.
A splintering of the labour movement also bodes ill for the Democratic Party, which for generations has depended on labour leaders to galvanise voters as well as raise funds for candidates for the White House and Congress. Last year, almost a quarter of all the votes cast in the presidential race came from union households, a majority of which supported the Democrat, John Kerry.
Part of the battle is being fought over John Sweeney, leader of the AFL-CIO for 10 years, who is expected to win re-election this week. Activists have been fighting to have him removed, arguing he has failed to re-energise the movement.
Seven unions now belong to an ad hoc grouping - the "Change to Win Coalition" - opposed to Mr Sweeney's re-election. All may end up breaking ranks. They are demanding new leadership and more funds to allow individual unions to merge and launch new membership drives.
"The AFL-CIO, to its credit, has listened to us. But in the end, they have not heard us. The language of reform has been adopted, but not the substance ... We have reached a point where our differences have become unresolvable," said Anna Burger, the chairman of Change to Win.
Backers of Mr Sweeney, 71, have come close to branding their departing brethren as traitors to the cause. "Today is a tragic day because those that left the house of labour ... are weakening our house and shame on them," growled Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers, which will remain in the fold.
Others contended that the dissidents, far from helping, were playing into the hands of those who would like to see the movement grow weaker still. "I think the only one who wins from this is George Bush and his minions who are trying to weaken labour unions," said Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Threat of 'catastrophic cascade of collisions' must be averted, warn scientists
Oxford is the least affordable city in the UK, where houses cost 11 times local salaries
Wellcome Image Awards: The most striking images from the world of science, including breast cancer cells under chemical attack and a photographer’s own kidney stone
Space debris orbiting Earth to be destroyed with giant lasers fired from Australia
Swarm of killer bees sting woman 1,000 times
Oscar Pistorius murder trial: Athlete repeatedly sick as court hears 'graphic details' of Reeva Steenkamp's post-mortem
Britain's top vet sparks controversy with call for ban on slashing animals' throats in 'ritual' slaughters for halal and kosher meat products
Poor 'live like animals' says Boris's privately educated sister after going on 'poverty safari'
Exclusive: Impact of immigrants on British workers ‘negligible’
Vince Cable: Teachers 'know absolutely nothing' about the world of work
Ukraine crisis: Russia pledges to 'retaliate against sanctions' as Ukrainian president says Crimea vote will not be recognised
The quiet diplomat: Catherine Ashton - recognised and admired in all the world’s troubled countries, yet ridiculed at home
- 1 Australian man Rod Sommerville reacts to bite from deadly snake by reaching for cold beer
- 2 North Korea elections: Kim Jong-un wins 100% of the vote
- 3 David Cameron resorts to paying for Facebook fans because not enough people like him
- 4 Steve Irwin’s final words: Cameraman present at death opens up about deadly stingray attack for the first time
- 5 Sharknado 2: Former WWE wrestler Kurt Angle to fight second wave of flying sharks
£12000 per annum: Inspiring Interns: Our client is a leading digital agency bu...
£40000 - £45000 per annum: Charter Selection: Global leader in its respective ...
£130 - £161 per day: Randstad Education Nottingham: Do you have a qualificatio...
£6720 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: The school is much la...