Okay, folks, here it is: Restoring the American Dream: Building a 21st Century Labor Movement That Can Win (The final version is now posted. Apologies for confusion). I’m going to do a more detailed side-by-side comparison of this proposal versus the AFL-CIO officers proposal released a couple of weeks ago (by the way, I’ll just say again, I’m hoping that John Sweeny—or, at least, his press department—follows through on his generous offer to answer follow up questions, which I submitted after his press briefing). But, for now, a few quick observations:
Most of the preamble is strong, powerful rhetoric—that no one on either side will disagree with and tracks what the insurgents and Sweeney have both been saying, with both calling for either “big changes” (Sweeney) or attacking the “status quo” (insurgents). It includes a picture of the terrifying decline of labor. Sometimes I wonder whether we’re going to stop digesting these facts after so many recitations because it’s too depressing.
By defining the Federation’s essential “movement-wide functions” (political and legislative action; public communication; legal action; National and global coalitions to engage large employers; and capital strategies and corporate and economic research), the proposal seems to confirm what the insurgents (and, frankly, others) have been arguing: the Federation should not have a role in direct organizing campaigns. One thing that needs clarification: how does that square with the call for the AFL-CIO to be the “Strategic center for a permanent campaign to take on powerful anti-worker employers and help workers unite their strength in new growth sectors.”
The strategic center proposal reiterates the idea to create a fund of $25 million out of the current AFL-CIO budget (presumably, as argued before, from the fees from the AFL-CIO credit card program) to fund those strategic fights. The Sweeney proposal had called for a $22.5 million Strategic Organizing Fund but two-thirds of that would be in the form of rebates to unions. Overall, the insurgents see their proposal dedicating $60 million (about half of the Federation's budget) to growing the numbers of unionized workers.
Ah, yes, rebates. That’s the labor movement’s equivalent of a politician offering tax cuts. The insurgents’ proposal calls for a 50 percent to unions that “have a strategic plan and commitment to organizing in their core industries.” This proposal and Sweeney’s proposal both call for tough standards for those unions wanting to tap into rebates or a strategic organizing fund. A little tough love and standards are long overdue…but I think the details are still vague of how to enforce those tough standards and, most important, who will be the “cop” to enforce the standards.
See, the bottom line has always been that a key problem in labor’s dysfunction is that the Federation is inherently a weak organization. The real problem is that too many affiliates don’t feel the same alarm about the demise of the movement or, at best, their leaders are either unwilling or poorly-equipped to turn around organizations that are ineffective. My own view is that the insurgents have done much more to call out the other affiliates on their deficiencies and the need to change--or die. But, the headache of the structural weakness of the Federation will exist no matter who runs 16th St. after July.
On that score, the insurgents take the more moderate position of calling for the AFL-CIO to actively help unions to merge; that’s a pull-back from the SEIU initial call for mandatory mergers. But, they come back tougher when they reiterate the need for the AFL-CIO to be tougher in defining organizing and jurisdictional boundaries, calling for the Federation to “facilitate coordinated bargaining” and arguing that “Affiliates which do not participate and which undercut workers’ standards should suffer sanctions.”
On politics, Democrats are you listening? There is a much more veiled critique of the Democratic party in the insurgents proposal: “Our program must be workplace-centered, worker-oriented, and independent of any party or candidate. Our purpose is to be the voice of workers in the political process, not the voice of politicians or parties to the workers.” Amen to that.
Finally, my own pet peeve: I think the issue of China needs addressing on its own because what happens there will effect the life of every American worker, not to mention the labor movement.
As I pointed out earlier, the main political point of this proposal--and the public comments of the insurgent leaders--is to express a no-confidence vote in the Sweeney Administration and turn up the heat for a change in leadership.
Your turn: read the proposal and comment.