LaborTalk for February 25, 2011

Surge for Human Rights Is Worldwide;
AFL-CIO Members Are Slow to Protest

By Harry Kelber

It is truly remarkable how the struggle for human rights and decent jobs that pay a living wage has caught fire in countries around the world since the Egyptian rebellion only three weeks ago.

But the reform movement has not touched the AFL-CIO, whose top leaders fervently believe in the status quo. And why not? They can guarantee their own re-election. They control our dues money. They can spend it as they please. It’s quite a sweet deal. And the beauty part of it is that union members are not protesting. Well, maybe they are, in whispers.

The AFL-CIO Executive Council, that adopts policies that affect our economic and political well-being, consists of 43 members, mostly middle-aged -to -elderly white males, who get re-elected, even though we may have never seen them, know nothing about their record or views or what they say and do behind closed doors in our name.

These sham elections are outrageously undemocratic, depriving us of honest, fair voting and the right to run for high office. In the past 125 years, no officer or member of a State Federation or Central Labor Council has dared to run for a position on the Executive Council and face certain humiliating defeat.

No one believes that a frozen leadership is good for the AFL-CIO”s future. So why isn’t there talk about developing young leaders with fresh ideas? Because that could be a threat to the existing leaders. And besides, no one among the labor activists dares to broach the subject without coming under a cloud of suspicion.

No One Talks About the AFL-CIO’s Major Losses

When the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that 1,300,000 workers had ended their union affiliation in the past two years, no one, either leaders or rank-and- filers, seemed unduly concerned. There was hardly any mention of it on the AFL-CIO NOW web site. The traumatic news was treated with the same interest as last night’s weather report.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka did not issue any statement of concern, since he gets his six-figure salary, no matter how low the membership drops. And so does Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler and Executive Vice President Arlene Holt.

We have been systematically stripped of our basic rights as union members without registering our strong disapproval.

They deny us the right to know anything about the AFL-CIO’s financial status, including how our dues money is invested. And are we angry? Not enough to complain.

They deny us honest elections and the right to run for office. Shouldn’t we raise hell on this issue? But we don’t.

They deny us the right to have an ethical practices committee to prevent abusive treatment and crimes against the union. We could win on this issue, but members will not fight for it.

We want the right of transparency and accountability within the AFL-CIO.

Our leaders take extra pains to see that we have neither.

The only right they’ll give us is
The Right to Pay Union Dues

* * * * *

We are proud the way our union members are standing together to fight off the attacks by Republicans and their corporate allies on collective bargaining and other basic rights.

In these struggles a new, young leadership is arising, many of whom will be the AFL-CIO leaders of the future.

Let us hope that our passive acquiescence to the dominance of authoritarian, self-serving leaders is past and that the integrity of the AFL-CIO as a model labor organization will be restored.—Harry Kelber

LaborTalk (139) will be posted here on March 1, 2011 and on our two web sites: ( and (

LaborTalk will be posted here on March 1, 2011 and on our two web sites and on