John Sweeney, a Socialist, has presided over the AFL-CIO for the past ten years. It has been a period of decline for the organization and the labor movement. The AFL-CIO’s annual convention is next month, and a coalition of unions that includes some of the organization’s biggest members is threatening to pull out if Sweeney is elected to another term. The coalition includes the Service Employees International Union (the AFL-CIO’s biggest), the Teamsters, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), Unite Here, and the Laborers–altogether, around forty per cent of the AFL-CIO’s membership.
The dissident coalition criticizes Sweeney for failing to invest adequately in organizing to try to win new union members. While the group is probably not much to Sweeney’s right politically, its message is an implicit rebuke to Sweeney’s elevation of far-left politics over the nuts and bolts of union work. As an independent group, I suspect that the coalition would be much less likely to support every left-wing fad that comes down the pike than the AFL-CIO has been in recent years.
At one time, a schism of this magnitude within organized labor would have been a major news story. The press’ ho-hum reaction to the threatened split is perhaps a reflection of how far the influence and importance of organized labor has fallen.
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