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July 25, 2005

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

It's inches from official -- we're almost certainly going to have a Labor split.

Good.

There are two ways to look at this. The first is from the Labor movement's perspective. Is splitting going to reverse the decline of unions or hasten it? The answer, truthfully, is that we don't know, but we're quite sure that the AFL-CIO's methods weren't helping matters any, so changing them up is crucial. But it goes beyond that too.

You have to think of the Labor movement as having two parts: the old style, manufacturing and public sector unions, which have historic employee power and are primarily focused on retaining their gains, and the new movements, which are trying to unionize the low-wage service sectors. The strategies needed to retain old gains are very different from those necessary to make new ones, and the fundamental conflict is whether the AFL-CIO will be organized to support the latter aim or the former. Neither group really feels it can do both. But the SEIU, Teamsters, and all their allies in Change to Win don't feel that it can be at all split. Unionizing new industries and taking on the new breed of anti-union companies (Wal-Mart) is simply too big a job to do with anything but full resources and full attention, so having a hundred small unions competing with each other while most of the cash flows to political pressure is simply mad.

The second analysis, contra Singer, is political. Will this be good for the Democratic party? One of the primary conflicts in the AFL-CIO, which again goes back to the old v. new union issue, is whether their cash should be spent trying to elect Democrats who can pass legislation more favorable to unions or be funneled directly to organizing, political environment be damned. This would, of course, be a more convincing argument if the Labor movement were actually able to elect Democrats. Not so. Despite it's best effort, it's still too small to do anything save slow our slide.

But now, with the rise of the net, the Phoenix Group, and small donors, Democrats have the money to fund their own resurgence, and the success of that project is up to us. It'll be much better, long run, if we have a revitalized Labor movement to draw on. So even from a political lens, it's better for the party if the Labor movement concentrates on its own growth rather than ours. As things stand, they're not large enough to save us, but they may still be able to save themselves. And doing the latter may achieve the former anyway.

July 25, 2005 in Labor | Permalink

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Comments

Heh, well that's the Panglossian view... One stat to note, though, is that labor density has gone down under both Democrats and Republicans, so yeah, the argument that electing liberals will solve anything seems a bit misguided.

Posted by: Brad Plumer | Jul 25, 2005 1:37:22 PM

I am nothing if not an incorrigible ooptimist ;)

Posted by: Ezra | Jul 25, 2005 1:43:09 PM

Ooptimist -- like an optimist, but more so. That or "optimist" typed by a hunt and pecker.

Posted by: Ezra | Jul 25, 2005 1:43:55 PM

I like the symbolic significance of the split. I think it expresses a new sense of purpose in labor. At a time when the relevance of unions is being questioned, it can only be a good thing for people to be thinking about where unions will go from here. The split announces that labor will no longer be stagnant, "just there." It once again becomes a movement.

Posted by: Drew | Jul 25, 2005 1:52:33 PM

Please expand a bit on the Teamsters' decision. I know that they've bolted before, and that they've endorsed
Republicans in the past. Why are you classifying them as a new union a la the SEIU. I think of them as pretty old-school,, though they may fite into a particular niche that is not now well-served by the AFL-CIO.

I believe that the Carpenters left a while ago, and I think of them and all the building trades as the epitome of old-school unionism--both the best aspects of it and the worst.

Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Jul 25, 2005 2:23:48 PM

Isn't it about time that the unions stopped carrying latte for a party that talks a good game about supporting the working class but won't penalize prominent paty members who voted for the bankruptcy bill or who take huge campaign contributions from big business and it's lobbyists? For years now, the unions have been used by the Democrats as an easy source of money and manpower without a whole lot in return.

I hope the new Coalition turns it's back on the Dems and instead supports a lot more independents like Bernie Sanders. maybe that way, in time, a new third party will emerge that really does support the poor and the working class people of America.

Regards, Cernig

Posted by: Cernig | Jul 25, 2005 4:18:03 PM

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Posted by: peter.w | Sep 17, 2007 2:33:59 AM

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