You would think that Congress would call on national labor leaders to
give their views on what should be done to help our country recover from
the deepening economic crisis. After all, those leaders represent some 16
million workers who play an important role in providing us with the goods
and services that enable us to survive.
Since the government is considering a package of outlays to stimulate
the economy, it should be important to hear from the victims of the housing
and credit crisis. Many thousands of working people have lost their homes
and others are barely able to hold off foreclosures. Mass layoffs are
increasing as employers seek to cut their labor costs,
Surely, any package of stimulants must focus special attention on
helping struggling workers who have lost their homes and jobs. Whatever
financial aid they receive will almost certainly be poured back into the
Yet the fact is that labor leaders have not been invited to testify
before congressional committees on how to revive the economy. They have not
appeared on popular talk shows or in televised press interviews, even
though they know as much or more than the pundits and commentators who are
invited as guests to talk about the economy and who represent only
themselves. When was the last time you saw AFL-CIO President John Sweeney
or some other prominent labor leader on national television?
It is worth noting that both the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win have
been largely ignored by the elite media, but labor leaders have not
objected to being ignored. In fact, a great many of the 48 members of the
AFL-CIO Executive Council have not spoken publicly on a labor issue since
they were elected and re-elected in the past dozen years. Union members
have no idea what most of them look like or their background or what they
think or do. Council members appear to treasure their silence, leaving it
to Sweeney to speak for them, which he rarely does on radio or television.
After weeks when the housing crisis was front-page news and Congress
was talking about a package to stimulate the economy, the AFL-CIO waited
until Jan. 18 to issue several proposals. that included extension of
unemployment insurance, food stamps for the poor and needy and financial
aid to states that were in distress.
But the AFL-CIO and Change to Win never put up a fight for these
proposals when the House omitted them from its stimulus package or when
efforts were made to restore them in the Senate.
Labor's Image Is Damaged by Weak Response on Issues
It is hard to remember the last time that the two labor federations
called for a mass mobilization on any issue of importance to working
families. It is no accident that the labor movement has become marginalized
and increasingly irrelevant to workers, union and non-union.
If labor expects to organize even a part of the 50 million workers who
say they want to join a union, it will have to reform many of its current
policies and practices. Are their any labor leaders who are prepared to
undertake this important but very difficult task?
The final article of this series, "Why Workers Don't Join" will
appear on Wednesday, February 13. You can download the entire series by
visiting our web site: http://www.laboreducator.org .