Labor's Voice for Change (18) March 17, 2009

Why Has Labor Been Silent to Summers’ Charge
That Unions Are Responsible for Unemployment?

By Harry Kelber

On March 11, I spotted a full-page ad in The New York Times that featured a statement by Larry Summers, President Obama’s chief economic adviser, which said: “Another cause of long-term unemployment is unionization.” Moreover, the ad contained an explicit attack on the Employee Free Choice Act, which had been introduced in the House and Senate the previous day.

Since I thought that many labor leaders had not seen the Times ad, I described it in my weekly column the next day, including Summers' exact words and the attack on EFPC. I made sure the information reached most influential labor leaders. I was convinced that the AFL-CIO and CTW would respond to a damaging attack by a top-tier economist,who linked unemployment and unions. At the very least, they would ask Summers to explain his statement. To my surprise and puzzlement, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney did not respond to the Summers’ charge, Nor did any of the 43 members of the Executive Council. Nor any of the seven leaders of Change to Win. Nor the editors of Labor Notes. Nor the International Labor Communications Association (ILCA). In fact, the Summers’ remarks were dismissed as though they had never been uttered.

Thus, the several hundred thousand readers of The New York Times were led to believe, by extension, that unions cause layoffs, because no labor leader has come forward to challenge Summers. Having Summers’ name appear in the same ad that contains an attack on EFCA should be a source of concern, but apparently, it is not.

AFL-CIO’s Policy of Silence to Criticism Is Self-Defeating

AFL-CIO’s top leaders have a long-established policy of not responding to criticism. They can ignore unfavorable comments from union members because it won’t affect their certainty of being re-elected. But when they remain silent about the lies and half-truths directed against them, the public becomes convinced that all the terrible things that are said about unions and their leaders must be true.

We need leaders who can not only refute the arguments of anti-union propagandists, but can make a strong, convincing case that unions play a constructive role in our economy and our society.

There are some union members who say that we should avoid criticism, no matter how justified, because “washing our dirty linen in public" helps our enemies. Well, we’re never going to have a clean union unless it’s periodically washed by the members. It makes no sense to keep members in the dark and deny them an input role for fear that the employer might find a few facts about the union (which he probably already knows),

The best course for union leaders is to be straight with their members and win their confidence by doing so. In the last analysis, no struggle can be won or be secured without the participation of the rank-and-file.

What the AFL-CIO Needs Are New Leaders
With Fresh Ideas and an Inspiring Vision!

Article 19 of “Labor’s Voice for Change” will be posted on Thursday, March 19.