Labor's Voice for Change (45) June 18, 2009

23 Major Unions at Machinist’s Conference
Vow to Revitalize AFL-CIO at Convention

By Harry Kelber

Leaders of 23 international unions, representing three-fifths of the AFL-CIO, discussed major changes to revitalize the Federation, at a two-day conference on June 1, called by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

“We focused on systemic changes that would strengthen the federation’s finances and increase its clout,” said IAM President Tom Buffenbarger “We discussed a range of changes needed to modernize and upgrade existing capacities. We tallied up the current expenses and matched them to projected revenues. And we sought to reassert the historic role of the Executive Council.“

In the next few weeks, input will be sought from those international unions that were not present at the two-day meeting. During this period, work will be done to shape up resolutions and constitutional amendments for presentation at the AFL-CIO convention.

In its “White Paper” inviting labor leaders to the conference, the IAM outlined its vision for a rebuilt House of Labor:

“We want to see a Fed rising UP, not winding DOWN. We want to increase its clout, not dismantle its political machinery. We want to increase its solvency, not squabble over its legacy costs. And we want to see more focus on our members and less focus on a few oversized egos.” It added: “The IAM’s White Paper is but a starting point for all those who want to renovate the House.”

The IAM characterized the efforts by David Bonier, president of American Rights at Work, to build a unity agreement, between the AFL-CIO’s 56 unions and the Choice to Win’s seven, as a “non-starter.” “The proposal to create a new labor federation is fatally flawed and foolishly underfunded,” Buffenbarger said. “It lacks the pragmatism, transparency and full consultation that leads to a successful merger agreement.”

Important Changes Are Expected at AFL-CIO Convention

The simmering discontent with the AFL-CIO leadership in recent years has finally erupted, not from a rebellion by the rank-and-file, but by a group of high-level union leaders, who are trying to resurrect a largely moribund labor organization. Rather than breaking away from the AFL-CIO, the reformers are planning to introduce resolutions and constitutional amendments at the 2009 convention to make the Federation a more effective voice for working people.

In the past three AFL-CIO conventions, even in 2005, when seven unions left the Federation to form Change to Win, there were hardly any debates. Everything went smoothly, including the sham elections of officers. The rank-and-file’s role was insignificant.

But the 2009 convention will probably be different. The structural, financial and constitutional reforms that the Machinists and their allies intend to introduce are expected to cause contentious debates, whose outcome is unpredictable.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the current crisis is the worst that the AFL-CIO has faced in its 54-year history. How it will be resolved remains to be seen.

For convention news, check regularly with our special website: .

Article 46 of “Labor’s Voice for Change” will be posted on Tuesday, June 23.