It was five minutes before the nominations were to take place for the 51 seats on the AFL-CIO Executive Council, but all of the candidates on the Sweeney-Trumka slate were still in hiding. Where were they? Who were they? Why hadn’t they used the past three months to talk about issues affecting workers’ lives, like the other lone candidate for Vice President, Harry Kelber? Were they instructed to remain silent?
The number of Executive Council positions had increased, without advance notice, from 43 to 51 to add eight new union leaders to the Council. But why weren’t we told who drew up the election slate? How was the selection of slate candidates made? Were there more than 51 applicants on the slate, or was it merely a coincidence that the number of names on the slate matched the number of positions that would be open? Why the secrecy? Was the creation of the slate a way to pre-empt the need for a contested election?
At the nominating session, the names of the 51 candidates and the names of their nominators were read off. Since there were no further nominations (who would dare to compete with the slate, or was it even possible?), the nominations were closed and all 51 candidates on the slate were declared elected, without a single word from any of them. The entire “election”:of Council members took just about five minutes.
This is the fourth time that an AFL-CIO Executive Council has been chosen without a real election or even the slightest involvement of the rank-and-file.
And with Richard Trumka as president, we can count on a fifth and a sixth and even more Executive Councils to be chosen without an election.
Will anyone challenge the charge that the AFL-CIO is no longer a democratic organization, but rather an autocracy, dominated by the presidents of a few of the biggest international unions, who exercise a monopoly of power, because they control a majority of the convention votes?
Members Are Afraid to Speak Up for Fear of Reprisals
Members have good reason to be worried about their economic future. Layoffs continue, despite some signs of recovery. Wages are stagnant—and even worse. Membership is declining. Concession bargaining is reducing benefits. Many have been losing their homes. Maintaining health insurance remains a serious problem. Retirement income has fallen off.
Yet, there are very few signs of protest from the rank-and-file toward the AFL-CIO leadership. Compared to earlier periods, there is hardly any debate on the web sites of the AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions about how to deal with current labor problems. My experience at the 2009 convention tells me there is a pervasive fear within the ranks of the AFL-CIO, and that members are afraid to speak up about their grievances because they don’t want to risk their jobs or careers.
If Trumka can make a serious effort to promote debate that includes all viewpoints—a distinct departure from the past—he can begin to gain the confidence of the rank-and-file. If he conducts a transparent presidency in which members are kept informed about the AFL-CIO’s policies and activities, they will react positively and become involved in organizing campaigns.