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July 26, 2005

Big Labor Disintegrates

So another dinosaur bites the dust. Pretty soon, students of American business will look at the 20th Century the way we look at the Jurassic era. "What was the AFL-CIO, and who was this AT&T they had a problem with?"

Big Bill Heyward would know what to do. Before two major unions walked out on their brothers, there'd be finger-snapping and Leonard Bernstein music playing over the loudspeakers.

According to accounts, two, five, or seven major unions, fed up with a leadership that promised enrollment and elections and has managed to squander both, have and will soon pull out of the AFL-CIO and start their own umbrella organization.

Now, this isn't exactly going to force John Sweeney to seek refuge in Avignon, mostly because union membership down to about 1/8 of the workforce, and half of that is public employees. (No, the other half is not newspaper writers.)

Another one of the issues was competition. The dissident unions wanted the AFL-CIO to basically go all the way to godfather, sorting out inter-union disputes, marking out territories, forcing mergers, and preventing competition. That's actually pretty rich coming from the SEIU, which even now is scoping out the juiciest AFSCME territory for raids.

The Ted Kennedys (what union did he belong to? Riverboat pilots?) and Dick Durbins of the world can rail all they want about how Management, sitting pig-like in their boardrooms, smoking cigars in their tophats, are chortling over the self-destruction of their greatest foe, but the fact is, management had long ceased seeing unions that way.

Wal-Mart fights them, of course, but it was the unions that pillaged United and, even now, keep the company alive only to feed on its carcass. I remember talking to the head of one local company whose plant had recently unionized. You could tell, behind all the talk about how a single standard made things easier, that it really hadn't. But it was just a fact of life, not a hazard to navigation.

The new umbrella organization apparently believes that if you're losing elections anyway, your problem may be that you can't mobilize enough voters. So their main focus will be on recruitment. Fine. It also is probably at least a little in response to a membership that was voting 35% of the time Republican, while watching 99% of their political contributions go to Democrats. The UAW was only able to get away with this because of a combination of neglect and cowardice in the face of a very clear Supreme Court ruling.

Still, when most people still associate "union" with "hollow downtown Detroit," it's hard to see where all those new members are going to come from.

Posted by joshuasharf at July 26, 2005 09:23 PM | TrackBack

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