Building Labor Unity (1) October 15, 2009

If the Trumka Team Hopes to Inspire Popularity,
It Should Act More Openly toward Union Members

By Harry Kelber

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka will have to overcome the Federation’s traditional attitude of ignoring the rank-and-file if he intends to become an inspiring leader of the nation’s workers, both union and non-union.

That means he must cultivate the practice of transparency: keeping union members informed about what he and his two top colleagues are saying and doing, as well as listening to their comments and suggestions. And he must display a tolerant attitude toward dissidents and other critics.

One of Trumka’s best means for advancing his popularity is through the AFL-CIO web site. In addition to having a weekly column on the site, he can invite discussion and debate from the rank-and-file on important issues, and having their comments posted on the site. It’s important for him to know how the membership feels on any given issue.

When the AFL-CIO undertakes a major political or economic campaign, Trumka would have ample opportunity to display his leadership qualities. If he transforms himself into a progressive, inspirational labor leader, he could win near-universal acclaim, including praise from many of his tough critics.

To assist Trumka and his two executive partners, we propose to popularize their activities as they appear on the AFL-CIO Web and other venues. We will also ask for their response to the major concerns of working people.

Transparency Is an Essential Ingredient for Union Growth

Trumka’s most recent statement on the Web was on Oct. 9. when he told a rally to protest the layoff of hundreds of D.C. teachers: “The labor movement is right there with you. We’ll stand shoulder to shoulder with you for as long as it takes,” Trumka promised. (The audience responded to Trumka’s effusive rhetoric with cheers.)

Liz Shuler, the AFL-CIO’s new secretary-treasurer, told a labor audience in Minnesota: “If we’re going to build the future that we need and deserve, there are other things that have to happen. We need to reach out to unorganized workers who, for whatever reasons, don’t see us as the answer to their problems. Above all, that means young workers in their 20s and 30s.” (There’s that overworked phrase, “we need.”)

And speaking to a New Mexico labor audience, Arlene Holt Baker, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President, told a rally that children and vital public services should be protected in state budgets. (Not an extraordinary proposal.)

1. The trio of top AFL leaders should be talking about their own jobs and its responsibilities.
2. While stating problems, they should each offer possible solutions. That’s what union members want to hear. That’s what will enhance their reputation.


To Trumka: You have spoken out strongly for the “public option” in the health care bill. What are its chances of passage? What will the AFL-CIO do if it doesn’t pass?

To SHULER: As the AFL-CIO’s new secretary-treasurer, can you tell us whether the Federation us operating in the black or the red?

To HOLT-BAKER: What are your responsibilities as AFL-CIO’s Executive Vice President?

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I started this series, ““Building Labor Unity,” on impulse, based on my long-standing conviction that, as difficult as it is to achieve, unions need a good working relationship between leaders and members to ensure healthy growth.

“Building Labor Unity “is a work in progress and its articles will be posted at least twice a month and more often when the situation warrants.