AFL-CIO Survival and Growth

By Jim Thomas

First, the Executive Council must develop a long-term plan that will meet the needs of their constituents and allies. Constituents and allies are defined as all workers at all levels (90 to 95% of Americans):

  1. If you work for wages, salary, food and basic life needs on farms, in factories, in academia, walk a beat, fight fires, fix the roads, provide public services, write columns, write books, preach the gospel, read the Bible or Koran, advocate for peace, care for the old and sick, feed the children, teach the children, work for humanity in general, IE civil rights, religious freedom, among others, you are a constituent;
  2. If you demonstrate a willingness to speak out in support of workers on a consistent basis even when it is not popular with your colleagues and friends, you demonstrate by your actions sacrifices, in support of workers as spelled out above (no more lip services) talk the talk and walk the walk, you are an ally.
  3. If you are a criminal and have allowed corruption to flourish and grow in your Local Union or International Union, if you run a Local Union or an International Union using undemocratic rules or a constitution that excludes any and all opposition and your Union is based on nepotism, cronyism and undemocratic practices you are neither a constituent or an ally, you are antiunion and need to be expelled from the AFL-CIO.
  4. The AFL-CIO needs to resurrect the AFL-CIO Code of Ethics as written by George Meany and rewrite the Code to fit into today’s world. No quarter, no excuses, zero tolerance. Caution; trying to put in a weak public relation Code of Ethics will speed up our failure on behalf of our members. Not all Unions are corrupt. However, too many are.
  5. Every Affiliate must recognize the Union of choice of its employees and every employee of all affiliates must work under a collective bargaining agreement; talk the talk, walk the walk;

The Executive Council must understand that they are going to have to tap into the vision and talent of constituents and allies that the Council and some International Unions have spurned in the past because of internal political fear (never out shine the star). We are in desperate straits and can no longer exclude talent and new blood, we are dying and on life support, we need to muster up courage. The safest political strategy is to demonstrate leadership and lead by example.

The Executive Council and some International Unions have rejected any input from talented and natural leaders among constituents and allies for reasons that are suspect and contributed to the demise of our American Labor Movement.

The Executive Council needs to retool their vision of political activism and what works best for their constituents and allies; The money should not be at the expense or neglect of our constituents and allies. The anti-worker zealots already do that. The AFL-CIO Unions spend about $100M each year on political contributions, mostly on a National level and have received little if any benefit for these contributions (other than lip service).

We need to define who we are, who we represent and what we stand for. We have allowed the enemies of the working class, middleclass and the poor to define who we are. They have succeeded in dividing us. The elite and the political radicals have too much influence with our constituents and allies and that is shameful on our part.

When large numbers of the AFL-CIO Constituents follow the Republican Party, the Tea Partiers and ignore the AFL-CIO Leadership; it is past time to do a self- evaluation. When the AFL-CIO loses States like Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Jersey and many other traditional worker friendly states; the Federation needs to do a self- examination; the patient (AFL-CIO) is out of business. They just haven’t told their stakeholders and that is regrettable.

Tools for Survival and Growth

The AFL-CIO needs to set up Constituents and Ally Service Centers in each state in the United States with branches in each county and fund the centers to the point that they can function in an effective manner. One working director and staffed with interns out of college looking for experience, retired members, community activist, students, Quakers, Muslims, Jews, Catholics and trained in the worker rights areas and interacting and working with Government Agencies (State & Local) demanding worker’s rights and protection; minimum wage, prevailing wage, safety laws and regulations, unemployment rights, pension rights, senior citizens’ rights, meals on wheels, veterans rights, soup kitchens where in operation and starting ones where they are not in operation.

Balance the budget by ending all wars, support our troops as promised. Support our first responders (Fire, Police) rebuild America, close all military bases outside of the USA. End all subsidies to big oil companies and all other companies. All citizens pay the same % of their income to Social Security (this will fund all Social Security, Medicare for all ages). Mirror all trade policies that our trading partners have with us regarding our Dollars and Tariffs.

Instead of handing over $100m each election cycle to any political party, go directly to the people. The AFL-CIO Brand needs to be identified by the community as worker advocates fighting for justice wherever injustice is found.

When a worker feels alone and helpless he or she needs to know that the AFL-CIO is there ready to help. When perpetrators exploit workers they need to know that the AFL-CIO is a formidable opponent and will seek justice on behalf of all workers.

The AFL-CIO has about 15 million members and yet can’t communicate and motivate these dues paying members, there is a problem.

The AFL-CIO has not communicated with the members with one voice that is creditable since George Meany died. The AFL-CIO Executive Council decided that they would never have a strong leader like Meany again; it was the beginning of the end. In fairness there is not one institution in our society; educational, political, religious, military or any other that has dynamic creditable leadership that the people will follow.

Seeing how the National AFL-CIO was caught completely by surprise as to what happened in Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and elsewhere, you would think that the Federation would revise how they communicate with all the State & Local branches. Communication is a two-way street and the Federation clearly does not attempt to communicate with the affiliates, in a meaningful way. The National AFL / CIO have rigged their own elections and have completely excluded State & Local AFL / CIO Officials from running and winning office in the National AFL / CIO. The National AFL / CIO has completely gone non-democratic and that has added to their demise.

Stopping the anti-worker tidal wave would have been relatively easy and cheap if caught early in Wisconsin. Now the wave is National in scope and is going to be expensive and a major distraction; does the Federation really care?

Addressing Structural Short-Comings

Set up an independent Board of Directors; the AFL-CIO and its affiliates are multimillion dollar organizations and have a direct impact on each other in success or failure and yet there is no outside over-site as to how each International Union and the AFL-CIO function. To date wide spread corruption and lack of basic Democratic principals’ is business as usual in too many International Unions (not all).

  • A panel will be put together from the Association for Union Democracy Board of Directors to select respected, honest men and women to interview and determine who will serve on the Board of Directors.
  • The AUD is respected and the AFL-CIO Members already have a positive and trusting respect for the AUD. These men and Women serving on the AUD are pro union and anti- corrupt union and have demonstrated this time and again. Some unions would dispute this but they have problems and need help more than others.
  • The AFL-CIO Executive Council needs to reinvent itself after the Civil Rights Movement under Dr. King. (must read Donald Phillips Book; Martin Luther King, Jr. “On Leadership”)
    i. “We shall have to create leaders who embody virtues we can respect, who have moral and ethical principles we can applaud with an enthusiasm that enables us to rally support for them based on confidence and trust. We will have to demand high standards and give consistent, loyal support to those who merit it.” Martin Luther King, Jr. June 11, 1967
    ii. The over site Board will remove the political influences that always kill all attempts to clean up the Federation and its affiliates.

Why Consider These Changes?

  1. The radical right wing is going to come up with all the dirt they can regarding inconsistency and hypocritical behavior of the AFL-CIO and its affiliates; clean up your own house.
  2. In case you have not noticed it the Federation is not respected by the politicians of either party as well as the members of their own Unions.
  3. When you spend millions of dollars trying to get so called friends elected and you lose states like Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and other states where you should be strong; you need a reality check and small changes is not going to save the labor movement for the members: the members have spoken long ago and they are not buying what the AFL-CIO is selling. Independent polls show this over and over again; it’s time for a change.
  4. Is California next? The obvious answer is yes. Once California is gone the rest of the Country will look like it was hit by a tsunami as far as union members are concerned. Think about what will happen in the remaining states. Once again the AFL-CIO is way behind and is not a factor in this National assault on workers. This failure in leadership is going to have repercussions in the future that will probably be insurmountable. The AFL-CIO has failed the American Workers by not anticipating these assaults. The sole focus (as far as use of resources is concerned) has been political and in our hour of need the politicians are offering weak feeble support; do they see the writing on the wall?
  5. Trying to regain lost ground; after the enemies of workers have stripped worker protections from laws that have been on the books for generations; imagine how difficult it will be to regain any rights at all. It will be worse than the past few years. Labor will get somewhat friendly enforcement of meaningless regulations from politicians that want to appear friendly.
  6. Regaining influence with American Workers; nothing succeeds like success. Grow by providing services to the American Worker. Recruiting workers, organized and unorganized and representing them full bore. Providing a safe haven to working families, a place where they can turn when they need help, no matter what the problem may be. Restore pride and hope and the membership issues will take care of themselves. Associate ourselves with issues that concern working families; immigration, civil rights, voter rights, worker rights, education. In other words, be consistent do the right things for the right reasons. Hire administrators and advocates that want to perform these duties, honestly and with integrity; no nepotism, cronyism or corruption tolerated. If an intern or administrator is hired it is because they are qualified and worked to get there. Recruit interns that are committed (similar to the Peace Corp). Give constant feedback and training, support and encouragement.
  7. Alignment in the community; Look at groups with the same dedication and vision but always be consistent. Cooperate and respect but do not dominate. The Civil Rights Groups, the Religious Groups that advocate the same issues that we do.
  8. Who should work for this AFL-CIO Division; we welcome diversity and view this as one of our strengths. Short fixes have never worked. The AFL-CIO needs to get in the long term planning and budgeting mode and stay there; ten year increments seem practical. Hire a Peace Corps type to run the Division, however, the AFL-CIO Brand needs to be openly displayed so that the community knows exactly who is responsible for success or failure. Every worker employed, or appointed to the division will be represented, treated with respect and dignity. This is why the hiring process is so important. We only hire / appoint people who want to be there. The job / position is year to year and most of the work is internships, of course that can change based on performance, interest and success. We must make it clear; this division is unique and here to stay and our very survival depends on its success.

Where does the power come from?

The AFL-CIO is an organization with 15 million dues paying members. This is half the battle (people paying to be represented) it sure should not take much to find and communicate with this huge pool of people. In comparison the tea party had to build from scratch. The power for the tea party came from providing leadership that the American People crave. At the very least the AFL-CIO should have access to a pool of at least 30 million (15 million plus spouses, not to mention children). However, the baggage the AFL-CIO carries presents a challenge. For instance, in the New Jersey Governor’s race the AFL-CIO went all out to support the incumbent Jon Corzine (a Democrat). New Jersey is a strong Democratic labor State; However, the labor democrat effort feel far short and the Democrat and labor voters deserted the Union and Democrat Leadership and voted for a far right Republican (who had just finished putting a gang of corrupt Operating Engineers Union Officials in jail and the NYC labor leaders are going to jail on a regular basis and the New Jersey News outlets carry these stories in real time), consequently, the Union and Democrat leadership was ignored by the Members.

What is the alternative?

The loss in Wisconsin and Michigan is just the beginning of a nationwide assault by the enemies of Unions and working people in the US. There is a new amount of blood in the water and the enemies of working people are emboldened and are going to succeed. The old tactics that the AFL-CIO feels comfortable with is going to fail. The AFL-CIO leadership is going to try to put an upbeat spin on their progress and kick the can down the street. I want to emphasize that not all Unions are corrupt but too many are; Let us talk about my Union, the International Union of Operating Engineers. I am a 53 year member: The IUOE is dominated by corruption, cronyism and undemocratic practices. We have a long history of these failings and it is well documented (with occasional attempts to clean it up). The attempts always failed and the Union would slide right back to its old behavior. The slide always occurred at the International level in Washington and then the slide would quickly escalate throughout the Country, especially in the Northeast United States.

In fact today, 2013 the IUOE is at its lowest point with record resignations, guilty pleas and convictions for criminal behavior of International Officials (who are also heads of major local unions). As in the case of most International Unions the IUOE Officials (with the exception of General President) also serve as the top officials in their local unions. The IUOE is riddled with criminal behavior and undemocratic practices and the average member is disgusted and refuses to participate in the affairs of the Locals. (You can Google International Union of Operating Engineers Corruption and see for yourself). These actions are taking every union down and eventually will spell doom for us all. Just running your Union free of corruption and democratically will never be enough and the AFL-CIO Leadership is well aware of it and that is unfortunate. Not taking action against these criminals will spell defeat for the rest of the Labor movement and workers in general. The AFL-CIO has a moral and Constitutional obligation to rid the organization of these criminals and the Union Leadership that tolerates them. In the mid 1950’s President Meany wrote to the IUOE and threatened to expel them from the AFL-CIO if they did not clean up the Union. Drastic action is long overdue and everyone knows it.

What should the AFL-CIO Expect From Affiliates?

Aggressive pushback. The corrupt will not change their behavior without a fight. They will solicit allies and use the argument that “we have the right to run our own organizations. The AFL / CIO does not have the authority to force their rules on independent International Unions”. We have all heard these arguments in the past and they sound reasonable. However, the situation in the American Labor Movement has only gotten worse and we will all disappear if we do not change. In addition we have all become ineffective in representing our members. We owe it to the American workers to rid ourselves of the ball-and-chain that we have allowed to capture the spirit and fight from the working families in our Nation.

Overcoming Fear from Legitimate International Union Leaders; This Is something that must be considered. Alleviate the legitimate fears from National Union Leaders and Local Union Leader’s and their members. These new rules must be applied in a deliberate and fair manner. The AFL / CIO must have clean hands in implementing these new rules and procedures. Lead by example. Implement first in how the Federation does things. Step by step the AFL / CIO must go first internally and show the affiliates that these new rules will benefit everyone over the long haul. Democracy and integrity will be the new buzz words for the United States Labor Movement. Restructure the AFL / CIO from top to bottom. Install open and honest democratic processes to the AFL / CIO Conventions and elections. Solicit and accept the help of outside groups from within and without the Labor Movement. Implement a five (5) year plan for revisions and implementation of a renewed Federation that the American workers will be proud to be a part of. Democracy, Integrity and openness will be the rule.

Sending the “Right Message”; You need to be bold: Send a public message to the IUOE. You (the IUOE) must agree to complete over-site (ie; the IBT). The National IUOE Office must be taken over by a independent over-site committee. The takeover must be administered by the Association for Union Democracy in conjunction with the AFL -CIO.

The IUOE would pay for all expenses regarding a clean-up.

“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.” — Gandhi

Submitted on behalf of;
George Meany, John L. Lewis, Walter Reuther, Wm. Green

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