Published on Monday, July 25, 2005 by CommonDreams.org
Top 10 List for the Labor Movement
by Ralph Nader
Rose Ann DeMoro is the Executive Director of the California Nurses Association (CNA) - the country's fastest growing union. Since 1992, union membership has grown from 13,000 to the present 63,000. And it was since 1992 that the nurses became more prominent in participating in and running their own unions. No coincidence.
Whether it is CNA getting patient protection bills through the state legislature or exposing the gouging pricing of health care while the HMO bosses each take away millions in executive pay every year, this is the standard-bearer for larger stagnant unions to look up to and emulate.
With Arnold Schwarzenegger riding high last year in the polls as Governor, the nurses took umbrage at his selective cuts for people programs while performing as a corporate cyborg for corporate greed and tax escapism. When he called them a "special interest", the nurses swung into action and Arnold's polls have not stopped dropping.
Now Rose Ann DeMoro has weighed in on the clash of large labor unions coming at the AFL-CIO's convention in Chicago that starts July 25, 2005. The "Change to Win" group of dissident unions led by SEIU and UNITE are making breakaway noises from the large labor federation if their demands about succession to AFL-CIO leader John Sweeney and budgets for organizing are not met. Ms. DeMoro thinks this is a power struggle with much ado about nothing very substantive.
Here is her succinct critique labeled "Top 10 Problems with the Current Debate in the Labor Movement".
There are no real ideological disputes, in part because the current AFL-CIO leadership and programs were, mostly, put in place by those now challenging them. It appears to be more about egos and an effort by specific unions to anoint themselves as the group who should control the AFL-CIO.
No workers or rank and file union members are involved, and it is their labor movement. Much of the discussion is based on recommendations of consultants and Madison Avenue approaches such as branding, polling and focus groups, and scripted blogs, rather than engaging the membership and the public on helping shape the future of the labor movement.
No issues affecting the majority of working Americans are being debated - declining real wages, the health care crisis, the continued erosion of democracy in the workplace, outsourcing of jobs across the skill and pay spectrum, a deteriorating social safety net, declining support for public education, environmental degradation, social justice and ongoing racial and gender inequality, alienation and disaffection from the political process.
No real solutions to these problems are being proposed - curbing corporate control of the political and economic system, single payer-universal health care, a progressive tax system that restores fair share taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals, taking corporate money out of politics, a new industrial trade policy, a peace, not war economy as well as a strategy for reforming repressive/crippling labor laws and enforcement bodies.
The specific proposals by the Change to Win group are structural and bureaucratic, not programmatic - rebating union dues, forcing unions to merge, limiting the executive council to the largest unions, and claiming sovereignty for unions by industry or sector based on a union's density in that area. There is no evidence any of these changes would solve labor's problems.
The notion that the salvation of the labor movement reduces to "density as manifest destiny" is historically false, and analytically shallow. Equally, for the unions that are proposing the monopolistic changes, seemingly self serving. Some unions that have achieved density have been decimated by corporate sponsored political, economic, and social policies. Besides, forced mergers are anti-democratic.
If the issue of organizing was simply dues rebates we could all rest easy. But that notion is painfully oversimplified. Some unions in and out of the Change to Win unions are organizing within the current structure, others have not organized for years. Even if the AFL-CIO paid per capita to some of these unions they still would not or could not organize. And forcing mergers is not synonymous with organizing and in fact could silence the voice of the most active and militant unions and union leaders who are fundamental in building this labor movement.
Perhaps because the corporate right is so extreme, some "progressive" analysts have been portraying the dues rebates and proposed forced mergers as core issues. But more troublesome are those pundits who write glowingly about the Change to Win group's greater expansion of labor-management partnerships with their corporate-friendly cost savings schemes, worker speed up programs, explicit endorsement of globalization, deskilling, outsourcing and privatization as Labor's salvation. These proposals can only serve to further alienate the American worker from the labor movement, further erode labor's power and harm the very society wide communities with which labor needs to align and nurture.
Limiting the executive council to the biggest unions would further reduce the influence and voice of women and people of color in labor leadership.
No discussion of non-bureaucratic strategies are on the table - including expanded coalitions with non-labor community, religious and environmental groups; active grassroots education and mobilization campaigns to challenge the corporate/far right agenda; building genuine political independence and holding the democratic party accountable to worker and public interests, and serious consideration of - imagine, a labor party for a labor movement."
For more information, visit www.calnurses.org.