During the floor debate yesterday on a resolution expanding the AFL-CIO’s commitment to take the workers excluded from the labor law’s protections into its ranks—domestic workers, taxi drivers, day laborers and the like—one delegate to the union’s quadrennial convention likened the proceedings to the 1935 AFL Convention, when a sizable group of unionists wanted the Federation to expand its ranks to include factory workers. The more conservative Federation leaders, including its president, William Green, believed that unions should represent only workers in skilled trades – carpenters, masons, plumbers and so on. But John L. Lewis of the Mine Workers and Sidney Hillman of the Clothing Workers believed that there were millions of factory workers who would flock to unions if given the chance.
“Community is the new density,” AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler said yesterday, just moments before the labor federation’s quadrennial convention was gaveled to order in Los Angeles. For those who follow labor-speak, the remark was both an acknowledgement of American labor’s crisis, and a guide to the strategy with which it hopes to recover.
Based on Congressional Republicans’ apparently overwhelming opposition to President Obama’s proposal to strike Syrian military facilities in retaliation for the government’s use of chemical weapons, a new way to enact progressive legislation in the United States has become apparent.
Last Thursday, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW)—the 1.3 million-member union of retail workers, chiefly supermarket employees—announced that it was leaving the breakaway mini-labor federation, Change To Win, and rejoining the AFL-CIO. Of the six unions that left the AFL-CIO in 2005 to form Change To Win—the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Teamsters, the UFCW, UNITE HERE, the Laborers and the United Farm Workers (UFW)—only SEIU, the Teamsters and the Farm Workers (the last with probably fewer than 10,000 members) remain. Two-point-zero-something unions do not a federation make, but then, Change To Win, despite all its lofty ambitions, never really amounted to a federation.