AFL-CIO

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The American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) is the US's largest labor union federation.

Socialist takeover

Circa 1994, AFSCME president Gerald McEntee approached the AFL-CIO with his idea for Project '95, a coalition effort aimed at retaking the House, for the Democratic Party, but AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland demurred. With that, McEntee and fellow Democratic Socialists of America supporter John Sweeney began canvassing their colleagues about Kirkland's removal. In short order, they amassed support from a coalition that included not just the core of the old CIO (the Auto Workers, Steelworkers, Mine Workers), but the Machinists, Ron Carey's new-model Teamsters, the Carpenters and the Laborers.

What began as dissatisfaction among top labor leaders with the Big Sleep of the Kirkland era evolved in the course of the year to the most profound move to the left since the founding of the CIO. Sweeney formally joined DSA and assumed the presidency of the U.S.s largest labor federation.[1]

"Progressive coalition"

According to Democratic Socialists of America member and journalist Harold Meyerson, the "progressive coalition" of labor unionists which ousted conservative AFL-CIO president Lane Kirkland in 1994-95 and replaced him with DSA member John Sweeney was led by Gerald McEntee, John Sweeney, Richard Trumka, and George Kourpias (all identified DSA affiliates). The coalition selected Trumka as Sweeney's running mate against Kirkland.[2]

Takeover then later split

It was announced in 2005 at the AFL-CIO convention that a significant group of national unions, headed by the Service Employees Union (SEIU), had disassociated themselves or otherwise “split” from their parent organization, the AFL-CIO. Also included were UNITE HERE, the Teamsters union, the Food and Commercial Workers union and the Carpenters union.

Interestingly, this was 10 years after John Sweeney of the SEIU had led the “New Voice” team that replaced AFL-CIO head Lane Kirkland, successor to the anti-communist misleader and class collaborationist George Meaney. Sweeney had promised to move forward with an aggressive plan for organizing the unorganized and turning around a long-declining membership.

After his victory, Sweeney called a number of high-level meetings with women’s organizations, such as the Coalition of Labor Union Women, as well as establishment Civil Rights organizations, and met with the leadership of numerous central labor councils in different cities.

The new AFL-CIO agenda was focused on a “living wage” campaign in order to jump-start the central labor councils, which were doing very little except endorsing “labor-friendly candidates.” The model Sweeney used was a blitzkrieg-style organizing of low-income nursing home workers as well as janitors, most of whom were immigrants. This campaign mobilized under the slogan of “Justice for Janitors.”

The campaign was notable not only for its militancy, but the fact that most of the workforce being organized came from El Salvador and other Central American countries, as well as Mexico. The demographics of these workers meant they did not need much prodding by the top-heavy staff of SEIU in order to be convinced; the militancy and determination they exhibited was part and parcel of their own history and experience in their home countries.

Both Sweeney’s initiative in 1995, as well as the departure of some of the major AFL-CIO unions to the Change to Win organization in 2005, had common ideological threads. It is an inescapable fact that both of these endeavors were top-down affairs, in which few rank-and-file members of the unions, or local union presidents, were aware of these proposed changes to “reinvigorate the labor movement.”

This was especially true of the 2005 “split,” which was based more on personalities and “turf wars,” despite claims by both Change to Win and the AFL-CIO that it was about devoting more resources to organizing. In short, there was no motivation for any of the rank-and-file workers, especially workers from oppressed nationalities, to “rally to the cause.” The issue then became one of a lack of credibility, because very few union workers at the base knew anything about what was going on.

SEIU President Andy Stern, who led the CTW faction and ironically had been groomed by Sweeney to be his successor, never elaborated on a precise program or strategy on how to reverse membership erosion and union decline, other than repeating the mantra of “organize the unorganized.”[3]

Influence of Democratic Socialists of America

The editor of DSA's Democratic Left assured a reader in the Spring/Summer 2000 edition;[4]

And there’s good news: More DSA members and alumni of DSA’s Youth Section are moving up through the administrative and organizing reaches of AFL-CIO international unions, and global labor solidarity groups, than ever in recent memory.

Socialist influence

In an essay in Democratic Left Spring/Summer 2000[5], then DSA vice-chair Harold Meyerson wrote;

The differences here are magnified because the strategic importance of unions in American politics has increased almost exponentially since John Sweeney took the helm at the AFL-CIO in 1995. It’s the unions that have brought the Democrats back to brink of retaking Congressional power...

Ending communist ban

Ohio Communist Party USA leader Wally Kaufman, used his position to mount a successful challenge to Cold War provisions in union constitutions barring Communists from holding office. Kaufman had been nominated to represent the retiree council on the executive committee of the North Shore AFL-CIO Federation of Labor, but said he could not accept due to the anti-Communist clause. This caused an uproar with protests being sent to AFL-CIO President John Sweeney At the following AFL-CIO Convention, the clause was quietly removed. The Painters and most other unions then followed suit removing similar provisions in their constitutions.[6]

Personnel

Top National Officers

The following have served as national officers for the AFL-CIO:[7][8]

Executive Council Members

The following have served as Executive Council Members for the AFL-CIO:[9]

Special Committee on Diversity

As at August, 2007, the following worked for the Committee:[10]

Committee Members

Committee Staff

Affiliated Unions

The following are unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO:[11]

References