Labor Split

Labor, Politics

I’ve been trying to keep up with the responses to last week’s big news about the AFL-CIO split. Kim Scipes’ roundup is by far the most thorough if you want to know what people in the labor movement are saying. Most responses have been fairly negative, suggesting that the split was more about power struggles at the top than about making the movement more democratic:

Yet, instead of going to the Convention, confronting Sweeney on his disemboweling of the little real democracy that exists on the national level of the labor movement, and building support among the delegations to force issues of democracy to the fore, Stern and CTW put their marbles in their pockets and went home. (Stern would have been on much stronger ground to fight for democracy within the AFL-CIO if he had not been so busy undercutting it in the SEIU, but that’s another issue.)

JoAnn Wypijewski wrote about one story from the convention that didn’t receive as much attention as it might otherwise have:

Historic news. On Tuesday, July 26, the AFL-CIO convention did something organized labor had never done before: it opposed a war during wartime, and called for the withdrawal of American troops. The resolution opposing the war in Iraq was not the best or the most fluent. Cobbled from 18 resolutions that had been offered for consideration, it read as if it were written by at least as many hands. The remarkable thing about those resolutions? Not one that had been submitted for the convention’s consideration supported the war. Not one was solely a simple statement supporting the troops. All called for withdrawal, the only difference being over timing. All came from Central Labor Councils.

But, not surprisingly, the most insightful comment about the whole thing came from blogger Nathan Newman, who focused on the implications of the split for US trade policy. He argues that service unions (represented by the break-away SEIU) have even more of an interest in trade policy than traditional manufacturing unions:

But specifically because trade” is not about trade, but corporate regulation, service unions still end up with purely self-interested reasons to be involved.

… In many ways, most manufacturing unions have very little at stake in trade negotiations, since tariffs on most goods are so low that trade agreements make little difference. But service unions operate in much more heavily regulated and/or public sector dominated industries where proposed trade agreements are likely to have a far greater impact.

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