Don't Let Me Stop You

What the heck, you'll do what you want anyway.

Collapse of the AFL-CIO

Posted by Dan Draney on July 26, 2005

The unions are revolting. The AFL-CIO has been eroding steadily for years, and now big chunks are breaking off. We’ve been curious as to what the fight was all about. One aspect is that President John Sweeney’s emphasis on Democratic Party politics has failed, and others want to move on:

OpinionJournal: “In the wake of the GOP takeover of Congress the year before, Mr. Sweeney promised to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into electoral politics to stop the Gingrich revolution. He staffed AFL-CIO headquarters with activists from the political left–environmental groups, culturally liberal outfits–and made the union consortium a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party.

A decade later we can see how that turned out. Democrats remain in the House and Senate minority, and union membership continues to decline across the American economy. The unionized share of the total U.S. work force has been sliding steadily for years, and was down again last year to 12.5% from 12.9% in 2003. In the more dynamic private sector, only 7.9% of employees now carry the union label.
Service workers President Andy Stern wants to arrest this decline by diverting more labor resources into union organizing, especially at such large employers as Wal-Mart. One of his rebel allies, Terence O’Sullivan of the Laborers International Union, wants to more aggressively use union pension funds and financial assets to influence corporate decisions and gain seats on corporate boards. Mr. Sweeney doesn’t oppose either idea, but he also wants to pour cash into Congressional lobbying and Democratic coffers. Mr. Stern replies that this money will largely be wasted until unions increase their member ranks, and for our non-union money he’s probably right.

What’s missing on both sides, however, is a vision of economic opportunity that might actually make workers want to join a union in the first place. Tactics aside, both factions continue to believe in the idea of unions that arose in the Industrial Age: Greedy management versus the exploited working man, seniority over flexibility, fixed benefits and strike threats over working with management to keep a U.S.-based company profitable and innovative in a world of growing competition. On the political front, both factions favor trade protection, higher taxes and government help to enforce restrictive work rules. This is the agenda of Old Europe, where jobless rates are above 10%, and it merely offers more economic insecurity in the U.S. as well. “


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