Monday, May 01, 2006

AFL and Change To Win: Back To The Future, or Something....

I'm ust getting around to writing about this mildly amusing and ironic story. NY Times labor reporter Steve Greenhouse reported last week about a proposal by Change to Win (the unions that broke away from the AFL-CIO last year) to get together with the AFL-CIO to form another labor federation that would do many of the things they criticized the AFL-CIO for spending too many resources on: political action, grass-roots mobilization, member education, legislative initiatives, and health and safety.

Change to Win Chair Anna Burger sent a letter to AFL-CIO President John Sweeney on April 11 suggesting they work together on common issues:
Several important pending issues, including immigration, health care, retirement security, labor law reform and the looming 2006 election cycle make it imperative that we coordinate our strategies and resources in the interests of all working people in this country.
She suggested creating a "permanent structure"

In a response, Sweeney declared himself "mystified" at Burger's proposal to create "a third federation," and although he supports coordinating strategies and resources,
the last thing we can imagine doing -- less than ayear after SEIU, UFCW, UNITE HERE and the Teamsters voluntarily left the Federation -- is investing time and resources in "cofounding" yet a third labor federation, with all the bureacracy, expense and additional staffing that would entail. And we cannot ignore the irony that the united federation of all unions that you propose...precisely describes the work of the AFL-CIO before the disaffiliations last July.
Now I'm not privy to all the inside plotting and planning of all the different sides, but on the surface it looks like Change to Win is figuring out that while greatly increased organizing is essential to ensuring workers' rights, it's not sufficient: you also need to translate some of that energy into policy and political power in Washington where many of the programs are developed and implemented that can help -- or hurt -- working people.

One of those important issues, of course, is workplace safety and health. And although Change to Win unions are doing a good job integrating workplace safety with organizing (in their hotel campaign and University of Florida, for example), they have no political program equivalent to the dearly departed AFL-CIO health and Safety Department (R.I.P.) or even the activities of the remaining AFL-CIO health and safety staff.

So here's my suggestion: Both federations should take note of the life and death struggles that workers are facing every day on the job, and both should establish well-staffed and fully funded health and safety departments -- which could then coordinate their activities in Washington and in workplaces around the country.

Now there's a crazy proposal I could get behind.