Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Labor Split - Is it Personalities or is it Private v. Public?


The speculating about why continues even as the body of organized labor is in the process of dividing. Today a front page article from the NYT, Analysis: Ambitions Are Fueling Union Split, suggests that at bottom it is a personality clash between AFL-CIO chief and former head of the SEIU, John Sweeney, and his one time protege and current head of the SEIU, Andrew Stern.

As the most outside of outsiders, I obviously don't know. But from a logical standpoint, at least based on the rhetoric, the debate is over which of two paths is the way to labor's rejuvenation -- through support and encouragement (i.e. money) for politicians which will lead to a more favorable climate for organizing; or more money on organizing, which will make organized labor stronger vis a vis employers and will have the added benefit of creating more political clout. Molly Ivins, who is much more in the know seems to say pretty much the same in her article at Working For Change, Solidarity later:

To oversimplify, Sweeney pretty much bet his wad on the Democrats on the theory that labor will never come back unless it gets a level playing field. Setting aside the spinelessness and incompetence of the Democratic Party (I think Democrats who voted for the bankruptcy bill alone should be run out of the party), it sure looks like a losing strategy. Labor skates with the Change to Win Coalition cite the old definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. To oversimplify again, the CWC wants to move all the artillery over to grass-roots organizing.
If that is an accurate view from the two camps, then the next question -- who benefits directly from the first approach, regardless of whether it ultimately works to increase a more level playing field for organization? I can quickly think of two possibilitieses. Cynically, the top union leadership which likes having at least one of the major political parties treat them as "power brokers." The other group would be those unions whose management counterpart is most affected by politics, unions which represent government workers -- the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, perhaps being the most visible. (One of the few areas of organized labor that has grown in numbers in the era of the "political" strategy and seemingly most opposed to a change in strategy.)

If I am a government sector labor activist, money spent on politicians is a direct strategy in creating a more favorable environment for my growth and success; for private sector unions it is at best an indirect strategy. I am sure that is a far too simple analysis, but one that surely must be somewhere in the mix.


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