LaborTalk for September 16, 2011

Trumka and Council Have Two-Year Record
Of Failures After a Phony Election Victory

By Harry Kelber

It is two years since AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and the 57-member Executive Council won their positions in an uncontested election at the 2009 Pittsburgh convention, whose results were faked in advance to prevent competition from rival candidates.

It is time to ask what have they accomplished in those two years. Have they improved labor's membership rolls and its economic strength? Are union members better off as a result of their efforts? Let's look at the record.

Their first big defeat was their failure to convince President Obama to carry out his pledge to fight for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). They had spent millions of dollars and sent a torrent of e-mails in support of EFCA to lawmakers, in the strong belief that its "card check" provision would make recruiting of unorganized workers a lot easier. Their campaign ended in an embarrassing defeat, as they decided not to challenge Obama's betrayal of his pledge.

The AFL-CIO leadership also gave up the fight for universal health care, after its members had conducted a tremendous grass-roots campaign for its passage. Our leaders allowed Obama to take the single-payer provision off the negotiating table, without any serious objection from the AFL-CIO. Trumka never challenged Obama on his abandoned promise to raise the minimum wage, nor did the AFL-CIO ever officially promote the idea of a "living wage."

The AFL-CIO campaign, "Make Wall Street Pay!", under the leadership of President Trumka, was a complete fiasco. The bankers were never confronted face-to=face, or asked to pay into a fund for the victims they had caused because of their reckless profit-hungry practices. Trumka abandoned the campaign after a few days.

Although this is the 21st century and considered a time for change, the AFL-CIO has refused to propose a single reform, clinging tenaciously to a clause in its Constitution that makes it impossible for any union member to run as a candidate for high public office.

The AFL-CIO has not invested money or resources for a mass campaign to recruit unorganized workers, although surveys they quote show there are some 50,000 workers who have an interest in joining a union.

AFL-CIO Leaders Have Little Relationship with Union Members

The AFL-CIO is controlled by a group of big unions that hold a majority of the convention votes. Their surrogates and staff run the organization, and they have no need to listen to the rank-and-file. They collect the per capita taxes from the international unions and refuse to make financial reports to the membership. They can spend our money as they wish, because they can act as though the AFL-CIO belongs to them and not the membership. They have rejected the idea of an ethical practices committee, created in the Constitution at the founding of the AFL-CIO in 1955.

It is rare for Trumka and his executive officers to appear at meetings or events, sponsored by Hispanic, African-American and Asian labor groups, nor are they a congenial guest at gatherings of unionized women workers.

There is no evidence that union members consider Trumka and his colleagues as competent or trustworthy. Requests that the AFL-CIO take a poll of its members on how they feel about the Federation and its leaders have been firmly turned down.

* * * * *

What have members gained from the current AFL-CIO leadership? Very little. Wages have either remained stagnant, with many workers having not received a pay increase in years. The purchasing power of a dollar today is less than it was several years ago. Many employers are demanding cuts in wages and benefits — and they are getting them

While every industrialized country and most developing ones offer paid sick leave to their workers, the United States does not. While banks have been unionized around the globe and have even conducted strikes, the AFL-CIO has been content with recruiting one percent of the nation's bank employees.

Would Trumka and his colleagues be willing to risk an honest election against rival candidates? That would be a fair test of their leadership. It can surely be arranged.

In the meantime, let's hear what Trumka and his colleagues have to brag about.

LaborTalk will be posted here on September 20, 2011 and on our two web sites www.laboreducator.org and on www.laborsvoiceforchange.org.

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