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Saturday, October 01, 2005

labor letter: Change to Win

Harold Meyerson has a piece in the LA Weekly about the new breakaway labor coalition Change to Win. (Mission statement here.)

This is Andy Stern's brainchild. And folks in the media (Chicago Sun Times) and business world (BusinessWeek) are taking notice. What Meyerson adds is the historical point of view:

"In planning organizing campaigns of its own that are beyond the scope of any one union, CTW is reviving the old CIO model of organizing. When John L. Lewis’ Mineworkers and Sidney Hillman’s Clothing Workers left the AFL in 1935 to begin organizing in the auto, steel and other manufacturing industries, it was the CIO itself, rather than any member union, that employed the organizers and coordinated the campaigns. That was a model that CIO President Walter Reuther argued for in 1955 when the CIO merged with the AFL, but AFL President George Meany (who became president of the merged Federation) contended that the existing unions could handle organizing themselves, and Meany’s position prevailed — with disastrous consequences.

Over the next 50 years, the economy grew in those places (the Sun Belt) and sectors (technology) where the unions weren’t, and shrunk in those places (the industrial Midwest) and sectors (manufacturing) where unions were. To a degree, the CTW’s structure, like the CIO’s before it, gives labor more mobility in its organizing endeavors."

With SEIU and UNITE-HERE (what used to be the ILGW) joining the Teamsters and two other unions, the possiblities for coordinated organizing campaigns in this coalition are significant. Meyerson is right to highlight the fact that Change to Win is focused on the 50 million service sector and new economy jobs that are the least likely to get outsourced; this group also represents the pool of the labor market most wide open to unionization. This announcement spells the first major effort to substantially grow labor as a part of the work force in decades. As the Sun Time's Francine Knowles noted:

"At its founding convention here, the leaders said they expect to spend nearly $750 million annually on organizing to rebuild union ranks. They pledged to be nonpartisan and put workers' interests above those of political parties when deciding what candidates or issues to back.[snip]

"Strategic, smart organizing is our core principle -- our North Star, uniting workers by industry, not one shop at a time, but whole companies all the time," said Anna Burger, who had served as chairwoman of the coalition and was named chairwoman of the new federation, making her the first woman to lead a national labor federation."

Will Change to Win, officially formed in St. Louis last Wednesday, be able to salve the wounds and successfully coordinate with the AFL-CIO when broader labor unity is needed? To what extent does the nonpartisan pledge signal a new day for labor politics? These are vital questions, especially for those interested in Democratic politics.

There is a powerful hybrid, say no to "business as usual" mood in the air. Andy Stern is at once a dogged coalition builder, and someone who is breaking down old models and pushing new ideas. The interests of working families should coincide with those of progressive candidates and Democrats, it would be hard to imagine how they wouldn't...but what Change to Win seems to be saying is that it's the job of the Democratic Party to act like it, not vice versa. Strategic, smart, and as Meyerson notes, hopeful.


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