EXCITEMENT IS NOT wanting in Los Angeles right now, where thousands have converged on the LA Convention Center to cheer on the AFL-CIO during its quadrennial convention.
Richard Trumka, who has been at the union federation since 1955, was re-elected for a second term as President. Liz Shuler, who hold’s Trumka’s old position as Secretary-Treasurer, or #2 in the federation, was also re-elected. And since no opposition was faced by either Trumka, Shuler, or the new #3, Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker, the mandate was clear, and the crowd ecstatic.
“It’s time, brothers and sisters, to get off our asses and get on our feet and get out the door and hit the street,” chanted Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and longtime friend of Trumka.
Yet Harold Meyerson of The Washington Post sees little to inspire.
With just 6.6 percent of the private-sector workforce enrolled in unions in 2012, traditional collective bargaining has all but vanished from the economic landscape — taking raises, benefits, job security and much of the American middle class with it as it goes.
Meyerseon went on to argue that the “chief business” of the convention (which lasts through today), is to redefine labor. Since labor is ineffectual on its own, the argument goes, it will need to begin cementing the sort of coalitions that have helped win its battles: civil rights, gender equality, etc.–essentially everything under the sun that’s left of center. Eventually this would require the commitment of “resources to building omnibus organizations where union and environmental (and other) leaders work for a common program.”
So, according to Meyerseon, if the largest federation of unions in the nation wants to accomplish anything in the future, it can no longer do so simply as labor. That which defines the AFL-CIO would either need to melt into some new left or perish. This reasoning requires no proof other than that offered by the AFL-CIO itself. On Monday, the convention unanimously adopted a resolution that would allow non-union members to join the federation.
What is to be made of this “big tent” labor movement? Surely it’s either a redeeming expansion or a fatal contradiction in terms. Or, perhaps, it’s nothing more than a shrewd political maneuver. Whatever the consequences for the AFL-CIO, they’re sure not lose any excitement over it.