LaborTalk for February 6, 2008

If unions are so good (and they are!) for workers,
why aren't millions of them rushing to join? (6)

Union Leadership Remains Passive and Silent
While Workers Feel Impact of Economic Crisis

By Harry Kelber

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 economy.

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: .