December 2004-January 2005
Frank Hanley Presidentıs Message
Time Is Now For Organized Labor To Take Stock Of Where Itıs At,
Where It Wants To Go, And How It Plans To Get There From Here
THE LABOR MOVEMENT IS faced with numerous challenges, some of which were
laid bare at the November meeting of the AFL-CIO Executive Council, of which
I am a member.
That post-election meeting produced an unheard-of-outpouring of anger and
disgust with the Democratic Party. Council member after council member, all
of them heads of their respective, affiliated unions, vented disdain for the
labor movement and its members. This despite the fact that had it not been
for laborıs Herculean efforts for the most part on behalf of the Democrats,
their losses would have been even more drastic than they were.
Consider that an independent national survey showed that union members
turned out in huge numbers to vote on Election Day, and they voted by large
majorities for Democratic candidates. Union households accounted for one out
of every four votes cast in the election: there were over 27 million union
There are countless other facts and figures that testify to an
unbelievably impressive effort by organized labor throughout the election
cycle. Still, labor gets a cold shoulder from the Democratic Party, which
apparently just takes labor and its efforts for granted-and thatıs got a lot
of labor officials seeing red these days.
The Democrats treat labor like itıs some kind of infectious disease
How much labor legislation have we gotten out of the Democrats over the
last 50 years even when there were in power?
Donıt rack your memory too hard because I can tell you we havenıt received
much. And labor certainly hasnıt received anything relative to or equal to
its efforts on behalf of Democrats.
However, come election years and the Democrats fall all over themselves
trying "to put the arm" on labor for its funds, talent and volunteers. They
cajole, they promise the world in return for laborıs support. But then the
elections are over, and win, lose or draw, the Democrats immediately
relegate labor to the quarantine list-again.
I think it is high time for the Democratic Party to get back to its roots,
to re-adopt the policies and principles that were so prevalent in the party
during the days of FDR, to concentrate on and to champion bread-and-butter
issues such as jobs and healthcare that are so vital to working men and
women and their families.
And I think organized labor has to re-examine its failed practices of
automatically putting all its eggs into the Democratic basket.
I have argued and cajoled against such a one-way policy until I am hoarse.
I always have and always will hold as gospel truth that we should
support those who support us, whether they are Democrats, Republicans,
Independents, or any other affiliation.
I strongly recommend organized labor take closer heed of Samuel Gompersı
oft quoted mantra to reward our friends and punish our enemies. He didnıt
say reward only Democrats and punish only Republicans. In other words, party
labels are not necessarily synonymous with friends?or enemies.
Support has to be reciprocated if it is to continue. A look at the record
quickly shows that the Republican party understands that principle.
Say what you will, but Republicans reward those who support them. Whether
the reward takes the form of appointments, policy, legislation or whatever,
the Republicans always stroke the backs of those who stroke theirs.
Hopefully, the concerns expressed at the last council meeting are the
beginnings of a more cnsidered, realistic reappraisal of when, how, where
and to whom organized labor expends its political acumen and resources. That
remains to be seen.
The NUP and The AFL-CIO
While organized labor certainly has to reassess its policies when it come
to external politics, it first has to get its internal politics ironed out.
It was quite clear at the November Executive Council meeting that there is
much unrest simmering within laborıs ranks over the direction and structure
of the AFL-CIO.
A small group of officials representing four unions have formed the Unity
Partnership (NUP) coalition. It consists of the leaders of the Service
Employees Union, the AFL-CIOıs largest affiliate, UNITE HERE, the Laborersı
International, and the Carpenters.
Those leaders of the NUP have been sharply critical of the AFL-CIO
structure and have demanded a more streamlined operation, greater activism,
consolidation of unions, strategic planning and more accountability to
reinvigorate the labor movement.
The AFL-CIO leadership responded to these calls for change by setting a
timeline for implementing reform, with key issues to be discussed and
debated at the next council meeting in February.
What these changes if any will be is up for grabs and open for
discussion. One thing is clear: there is a lot of disagreement over what
should happen next.
I have no problem with entertaining new ideas and possible change within
labor. But I do have a problem with some of these NUP leaders who are taking
their complaints to the commercial media.
Labor has internal mechanisms and forums to pursue and voices differences.
Thatıs where our differences should be aired and, hopefully, resolved. I
will keep you informed on what happens at the February council meeting.