LaborTalk for February 8, 2011

Will AFL-CIO’s Partnership with U.S. Chamber
And Obama’s Woo of Chief CEOs Yield Jobs?

By Harry Kelber

So the AFL-CIO has developed a partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of its worst enemies, that has opposed labor legislation for longer than most of us can remember.

What we gain from this strange partnership is the lobbying power of the three-million member Chamber in the fight for a job-creating, costly infrastructure, while it continues to lobby for cuts in government spending. Are we blind to the contradiction?

The agreement won’t stop the Chamber from supporting attacks on unions. It won’t change the Chamber’s policy of encouraging the outsourcing of hundreds of thousands of good-paying American jobs. It wants to get rid of many of the federal regulations that protect consumers, so that their companies can become more competitive. That’s some “partner!”

And on Feb. 7, we find President Obama addressing a meeting of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, pledging the assembled tycoons he would build a friendlier, more cooperative , pro-business relationship, forgetting that the Chamber had aggressively opposed his health care and banking agenda and spent more than $50 million during the 2010 midterm election to help the Republicans gain control of the House.

President Obama’s basic message to the business community was that Corporate America must feel some sense of duty to. our society as well as to its natural focus on profit-making — an attempt at an even-handed statement — reportedly pleasing very few at the meeting.

‘Profits Before People’ Is Still the Wall Street Motto

Obama’s suggestion that the business community can help the economy recover by spending its reserves on job creation (the banks and big-time Wall Street investors have more than two trillion dollars in cash stashed away in their vaults) was met with skepticism by outspoken members of the audience. Harold Jackson, an executive at a Buffalo medical supply company, said: “Any business person has to look at the demand to their company for their product and services and make hiring decisions,” Jackson said: “I think it’s a little outside the bounds to suggest if we hire people we don’t need, there will be more demand,”

Indeed, employers are not hiring many full-time people, because they can get their workers to take up the slack by working longer and harder, or by hiring temporary workers who can be fired when they are no longer needed. Sympathy for the millions of unemployed doesn’t enter into their equation in business practices.

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There is a growing, discontent against the AFL-CIO’s leadership from labor activists and ordinary union members that is simmering in various parts of the country, but hasn’t reached a public boiling point.

Many members are angry that they can’t find out how their dues payments are being spent. They are denied the right to run fo high union office. When they ask questions of their leaders, they get no response. They don’t have the protection of an ethical practices committee against abusive treatment.

Nor is that all. Under the present leadership, the AFL-CIO has lost more than a million members in the past two years. It botched up its campaign for an Employee Free Choice Act and failed to clarify the provisions of the new heath care law for its members. And what have they done to improve the wages and benefits of low-paid workers?

Critics have made the case that the AFL-CIO is not a democratic organization; that it has been hijacked by a group of leaders of big international unions, and that it has become a self-perpetuating, self-serving oligarchy.

And so, the grievances of the rank-and-file are festering, without large-scale public complaints. No one knows when union members will find the courage to speak out for their rights, but the time will come, sooner or later.

Look at Egypt, where millions of workers, who had not complained publicly about injustice for nearly 30 years, took to the streets to finally speak up for their rights. If it happened n Egypt could it happen here in the United States? Who knows? — Harry Kelber

LaborTalk will be posted here on February 14, 2011 and on our two web sites and on