Labor's Voice for Change (12) February 19, 2009

Should the AFL-CIO Presidency Be for Sale?
12 Labor Leaders Play E-Bay to Bid for It

By Harry Kelber

The presidents of the nation’s largest unions, representing both the AFL-CIO and the rival CtW, met in January to decide under what terms and conditions the American labor movement could be reunited.

The CtW, whose seven international unions broke away from the AFL-CIO nearly four years ago, said it was for labor unity — if the price was right. They were not going to return to the AFL-CIO as chastened prodigal sons. They presented a series of proposals that would enable their seven leaders to maintain the monopoly of power they enjoyed under the CtW.

There were several issues on which the conferees could not agree: Who was going to be the president of the merged AFL-CIO and who would occupy the No. 2 position of secretary-treasurer and No. 3 post of executive vice president? How would the rival union leaders share power in a unified labor movement? What about staffing, executive salaries, pensions? Who would get what, and by how much, before a deal could be struck?

These labor leaders were acting like property owners with sole authority to negotiate whatever terms give them a personal advantage. They regard union members as bargaining chips, to be used when financial matters are discussed.

The participants could not agree on the sticking points, but promised to have the answers by April 15. On or before that date, we’ll know that our new leaders have been chosen, when we’ll see the white smoke issuing forth from AFL-CIO headquarters.

Are We Going to Give Them Another Four-Year Term?

Once they’ve settled the leadership question and the financial and political terms of the newly-united labor movement, the 12 leaders feel supremely confident their decisions will win unanimous approval at the AFL-CIO convention in September, no matter what they propose. They certainly expect to be re-elected for another four-year term, because they have never been opposed for conducting sham elections over the past dozen years.

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Here we are, barely six months before the AFL-CIO convention, and there is no sign from our progressive organizations and prominent labor activists that they intend to oppose the corrupt, incompetent and undemocratic leadership that has so poorly served America’s working people.

Neither Labor Notes, nor the Association for Union Democracy, nor Jobs with Justice, each doing admirable work in its own field, has thus far shown not the slightest interest in forcing the AFL-CIO to hold open and honest elections or requiring candidates to debate issues of public concern, including much-needed democratic reforms. It would be shameful and irresponsible to give these self-serving, status quo bureaucrats a free hand to retain their monopoly control of the AFL-CIO.

Let’s hear from each of the organizations and others what they intend to do about having an impact on the AFL-CIO convention. Let’s see whether a working coalition can be established to lead an election campaign. What about an emergency conference in mid-May under the sponsorship of Labor Notes?

We simply cannot allow the power-hungry incumbent labor officials to continue their permanent control of the AFL-CIO without fighting back.