Labor's Voice for Change (21) March 26, 2009

How the AFL-CIO Constitution Helps
To Perpetuate a Corrupt Leadership
(Second Article)

By Harry Kelber

It is amazing that, with the AFL-CIO convention less than six months away, there has been no public challenge to a clause in the AFL-CIO Constitution that gives each international union thousands of convention votes while it limits affiliated state federations and central labor councils to one vote each. That helps to explain why no officer or member of a state federation or central labor council has ever been elected to the decision-making AFL-CIO Executive Council in over a century.

But that is not the only obstacle that prevents qualified candidates from challenging the entrenched AFL-CIO bureaucracy for the 43 seats on the executive council. Here is ARTICLE VI—ELECTIONS, Section 1(d) of the Constitution, which states:

“Nominations shall take place on the third and election on the fourth day of the convention, provided that the time of the nominations and election may be altered by the delegates on the first day of the convention by majority vote.”

With only one day separating the nominating process from the actual election, this means that convention delegates have little chance to know the views or even the appearance of the candidates who are competing for the 43 vice president positions.

It also handicaps opposition candidates, who, after they are officially nominated, have just one day to meet the hundreds of convention delegates, whom they have not seen before, and try to persuade them for their votes. Moreover, the official schedule does not allow either time or opportunity for an open debate between opposing candidates or the distribution of campaign literature on the convention floor.

This is not the smartest way — certainly not a democratic way — to elect the “best and the brightest leaders of the AFL-CIO, but it plays to the advantage of the incumbent group of conservative, status quo leaders, who have accomplished virtually nothing in their 14 years in office and now confidently expect to be re-elected for four more years.

Now Is the Time to Bring Long-Needed Change to the AFL-CIO

State Federations and Central Labor Councils now have a unique opportunity to break the monopoly of power that a small group of international union presidents have maintained over the AFL-CIO. With John Sweeney slated to retire, the executive council is torn by personality conflicts within its ranks. It has a record of failures and almost no accomplishments. In its weakened position, the council’s do-nothing incumbents could be defeated by an energetic group advocating democratic change.

To prepare for the AFL-CIO’s 2009 convention on Sept. 14-17 in Pittsburgh, the following organizing plan is suggested (subject to change): Wherever possible, the Internet, conference calls and e-mails will be used to expedite communications problems.

• During April, State Federations, as well as Central Labor Councils and local unions, will compile a list of their members who are interested in running for a seat on the executive council and are prepared to submit a statement about their qualifications.

• In mid-May or early June, a broad committee representing State Feds, CLCs and local unions, will meet to shape up a list of candidates that will actually be on the printed ballot.

• In July, candidates will hold a conference call to discuss the strategy of the campaign. They will assemble in Pittsburgh on Sept. 12. Two rooms at the Weston Hotel, close to the Convention Center, have been rented and will be used as caucus rooms for the candidates.

• Labor’sVoice for Change campaign will begin in earnest about July with an explanation of its program. It will have an array of leaflets in printed form or e-mails to deal with the major issues facing the labor movement. Part of the strategy will be to put the incumbent council members on the defensive.

• A major effort will be made to get busloads of union members from around the country to come to Pittsburgh to support our candidates.

Important Note: "I have taken the initiative to suggest a campaign for democratic reform and an electoral challenge to the AFL-CIO bureaucracy, because I saw no evidence that the would-be reformers were taking the 2009 elections seriously.

“I am hoping that my comments will stimulate discussion and action; I am quite willing to take the charge of arrogance. If there are any better plans to achieve our objectives, I will gladly withdraw mine.”—Harry Kelber

AArticle 22 of Labor’s Voice for Change will be posted on Tuesday, March 31, 2009.