LaborTalk for September 9, 2011

Is the AFL-CIO's SuperPac an Effective Model
For a New 'Independent Labor Voice' in 2012?

By Harry Kelber

At a Labor Day press conference, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka announced the formation of an "independent labor voice" that will promote its own six-point campaign for jobs. Trumka was responding to union members who want to break labor's close ties to the Democratic Party.

A typical complaint: Why should we give money and volunteers to Democratic candidates, when they pay so little attention to pro-worker legislation? We should use that money to strengthen our own unions and elect candidates who will be our consistent friends.

The Federation plans to establish year-round political activity that will involve members in state and local election contests. The unions, under the new policy, will support only candidate that will speak out in favor of measures affecting American families. In some situations, the AFL-CIO will run its own candidates.

The AFL-CIO's jobs campaign, "America Wants to Work," began this past week and will peak in early October with a "Week of Actions" to catch the attention of Washington lawmakers.

The AFL-CIO has also decided to use SuperPac (Political Action Committee) to reverse its continuing decline in membership and economic strength. SuperPac provides two important advantages: (1) it enables the Federation to reach out to millions of unorganized workers in its 2012 election campaign, and beyond; (2) it permits unlimited fund-raising without exposing its donors. The fact is that employers have the identical rights and, of course, their donors can write bigger checks.

But troubling questions remain. How does SuperPac create an "independent labor voice," a demand that continues to grow, as wages remain stagnant, and unions are forced to make concessions in order to avoid layoffs. Under the SuperPac system, union members are denied any voice in deciding campaign strategy. Like other membership-recruiting campaigns, all activities are conducted at AFL-CIO headquarters, with selected staffers. There is no provision for members to participate. It's not only undemocratic. It's also ineffective.

AFL-CIO' s 6-Point Jobs Program Is a Rehash of Old Programs

There is hardly anything new in the AFL-CIO's six-point jobs proposals. Most of the suggestions appeared in Trumka's five-point proposal, which received almost no attention in Washington when it appeared not too long ago. And how many times over the past few years have we heard labor leaders talking about infrastructure jobs to repair our roads, bridges and sewage systems?

Does anyone doubt that the U.S. needs to increase manufacturing? To repair its schools? Improve its mass transit system? Continue unemployment Insurance? These are all good proposals, especially the sixth one: "Reforming Wall Street so it helps Main Street create jobs."

Since Congress has turned a deaf ear to these worthwhile proposals, what can we do to make our lawmakers listen? AFL-CIO leaders haven't found the answers, and most of them have stopped looking for answers.

* * * * *

The AFL-CIO SuperPac has its uses, but labor's problems can't be resolved by Trumka and his close advisers sitting around a conference table, trying to figure out a workable strategy without involving union members to participate.

That is a recipe for failure. It is no way to build an "independent voice for labor."

LaborTalk will be posted here on September 12, 2011 and on our two web sites www.laboreducator.org and on www.laborsvoiceforchange.org.

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