This story makes no sense to me. When the AFL-CIO announced the concept of Solidarity Charters, I thought it was a good idea once the kinks got worked out with the Change To Win federation. It was a strong step towards realizing that everyone needed to figure out how to work together, and that, frankly, it was entirely irrelevant what bureaucratic structures each international union chose to be part of.
But, there's a new twist. In a January 30th letter written to State Federations and Central Labor Councils, John Sweeney says that the United Farm Workers, which disaffiliated from the AFL-CIO last month, was not eligible to be part of Solidarity Charters--nor would any other union that leaves the AFL-CIO from this day on. Here's the main part of the letter:
As you know, the United Fram Workers union recently notified me of the union's decision to disaffiliate from the AFL-CIO. This was an extremely disappointing development, particularly given the Federation's long history and tradition with the UFW and the considerable support--financial and otherwise--that the AFL-CIO has provided to the UFW in its struggles. My letter to UFW President Arturo Rodriquez concerning the union's decision to disaffiliate is attached.
Since the disaffiliation, questions have been raised about whether locals of the UFW are eligible to remain affiliated with state federations and central labor councils through Solidarity Charters. Please be advised that the Solidarity Charter program authorized by the AFL-CIO Executive Council applies to five unions: the UFCW, the Teamsters, SEIU, UNITEHERE and the Carpenters. Eligibility for Solidarity Charters is limited to locals of these unions. Local of the UFW or of other unions not affiliated with the national AFL-CIO are not eligible to affiliate with state federations or central labor councils through Solidarity Charters or other means.
Huh? What is the point of this edict? I can only surmise that the thinking is two-fold. First, someone might believe that by keeping Solidarity Charters limited to the unions that originally left the AFL-CIO, other unions might think twice before joining Change To Win if they are concerned about not being able to participate in the AFL-CIO local bodies. Second, it's not too far down the road to see the Change To Win federation becoming larger than the AFL-CIO--the Laborers are leaving sooner rather than later and other unions are discussing the same option (don't you think that the creation of a competing building trades structure is a omen that other construction unions are sniffing in the direction of Change To Win?); perhaps there is a desire to limit the influence of Change To Win unions inside the local labor councils.
Which makes zero sense. Does anyone at 16th Street really believe that a union is going to stay in the AFL-CIO simply because it won't be able to get a Solidarity Charter? And wasn't the point of Solidarity Charters to make it possible to work on labor and political action without regard to federation, because that was better for workers?
Blowing off the UFW is one thing--not many AFL-CIO labor councils are going to feel that. But, it's hard to imagine this will stand once the Laborers jump ship--AFL-CIO councils will feel the absence of the Laborers and they will either squawk about the discrimination or ignore the AFL-CIO edicts from Washington, D.C..
It was smart for John Sweeney to agree to the Solidarity Charters and he was able to show flexibility by agreeing to Change To Win's requests to make changes to the original plan. I hope he sees that this current discrimination isn't workable--and isn't advisable.