Labor's Voice for Change (20) March 24, 2009

How the AFL-CIO Constitution Helps
To Perpetuate Corrupt Leadership (1)

By Harry Kelber

It may seem strange that in the 123 years since the founding of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), no officer or member of either an affiliated state federation or central labor council has ever been elected to the policy-making AFL-CIO Executive Council. Nor have they even dared to be candidates for the 40-odd Council seats because they knew they would face certain, humiliating defeat.

The root of this bizarre discrimination against state federations and central labor councils is embedded in a specific clause in the AFL-CIO Constitution, ARTICLE IV, Sec. 18 gives delegates from a national or international union a total number of convention votes equal to the size of the union’s membership, while state federations and central labor councils are limited to only one delegate each, who can cast one convention vote. Here is how the clause was applied at the AFL-CIO’s 2005 convention:

• California, New York, Pennsylvania and other major state federations had one convention vote apiece, while the Writers Guild of America East, a small union, had 4,050 votes.

• A big union like the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) with 1,024,062 members had 19 delegates, each of whom was entitled to 64,000 convention votes; similarly, each delegate from the Communications Workers had 4,435 votes; and each delegate from the United Auto Workers had 6,962 votes. There was hardly an international union each of whose delegates didn’t have at least 1,000 convention votes.

• The combined votes of the 51 State Federations and 425 Central Labor Councils, a total of 476, was one fourth of the 1,706 votes of the Federation of Professional Athletes.

Clearly, the State Feds and CLCs were little more than “wall flowers” at the convention, which was dominated by eight to ten of the largest unions. In the sham election of officers, not even one member of a State Fed or CLC was included on the Executive Council slate, even though there were openings because of the breakaway from the AFL-CIO by seven internationals.

The Obvious Answer: ‘Each Delegate Must Have Just One Vote’

It is outrageously unfair that some convention delegates should have thousands of votes, while other delegates are limited to one vote. In most organizations, including the Canadian Labor Congress, to which many AFL-CIO internationals are affiliated, each delegate has just one vote.

But unless we amend the AFL-CIO Constitution to establish equality for convention delegates, the same Old Guard group of conservative, incompetent, do-nothing leaders, who won three uncontested elections, will win a fourth one, subjecting us to four more years of their dominance.

We have to develop a massive, nationwide campaign to “level the playing field” at the 2009 convention. We need to reform the AFL-CIO so that elections are fair and open so that any qualified member can run for national office. This requires a grass-roots “One delegate, One Vote” campaign by members of local unions, state federations and central labor councils.

Until now, progressive union leaders and labor activists have done virtually nothing to prepare for the AFL-CIO’s 2009 convention, less than six months away. There is still time to build a reform movement that will bring long-overdo changes to the AFL-CIO.

Are there any leaders in locals, state feds and CLCs, who can, and will, mobilize the union members in their community to demand the “One Delegate, One Vote” reform? If such clusters for reform can be organized in hundreds of communities, we will be able to challenge the Old Guard’s status quo policies, with candidates who have a program for reform.

If we remain passive, we will once again be surrendering to them — by default — as we did in the last three AFL-CIO elections.

Article 21 of “Labor’s Voice for Change” will continue to analyze the roadblocks in the AFL-CIO Constitution. It will be posted on Thursday, March 26, 2009.