The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Monday, May 02, 2005

AFL-CIO tussle looking ugly

The November elections appeared to the casual observer to show both that the GOP ground operations were better organised than Conventional Wisdom led said observer to believe; and the Democratic were worse.

There was, it seemed a tendency for Dem workers to be eager out-of-towners, liable to fall over each other, not directed to best effect and found uncongenial by the voters they were trying to woo; whilst the GOP operation tended to use neighbours - or locals, at least - more knowledgeable of, and empathetic towards, their targets [1].

One of the key elements of the Roosevelt Revolution in Democratic politics was the raising of the CIO. Three elements were involved (in the Cliff Notes version, at least [2]):
  1. a Popular Front alliance (members of the Communist CPUSA, together with fellow-travellers and non-Communist leftists) wanted an organisation that offered political power which was impossible to obtain through elected office;

  2. FDR's administration could offer - through the notorious ยง7a of NIRA, and, after NIRA was struck down, through the Wagner Act (National Labor Relations Act of 1935) - legal rights to organise the lack of which had previously made industrial unionism an extremely tough proposition;

  3. in return, the CIO would organise voters in support of FDR in those parts of country not already covered by Tammany-style machines.

Coming up to date, the House of Labor, still 12 million strong and, I'm thinking, still potentially the Dems biggest organising machine, is in trouble.

Relations between John Sweeney, head of the AFL-CIO, and the neos, such as the SEIU's Andy Stern, I knew were bad. But now, it seems, they've sunk to writing nasty letters.

In particular, demanding that the AFL-CIO delete their members' names from its membership list:
"Within 5 days of the date of this letter please provide to me a notarized letter stating that the file has been deleted in its entirety and all membership files of this union be deleted as well," Teamsters President James P. Hoffa wrote in a letter to Karen Ackerman...

It seems that Stern, Hoffa and their colleagues no longer wish to delegate their unions' electoral clout: they intend to cut out the middleman.

A bit like Wal-Mart, surely?

The struggle for control of American unionism of which the membership list dispute is part, is not, I suspect, a story that is getting anything like as much play as it deserves, either in the MSM or among Dem bloggers.

  1. Matt Bai's analysis of the Dem Ohio GOTV machine is essential reading. There was an earlier, companion, piece dealing with the Republican ground machine - but I was so foolish as not to snag a durable URL using the gizmo. Last time I looked, there was no copy online, except behind the Times pay-wall, of course.

  2. One angle to consider is the place of industrial unions in a vision of a corporate state. My (sketchy) understanding is that NIRA and the NRA it spawned were initially informed (to some extent, at least) by ideas of corporatism drawn from Mussolini's fascist Italy (or from the theoriticians of that state).

    By the time the CIO was mobilising in earnest, certainly by Roosevelt's second term, the corporatist impulse was much diminished. I'm certain this has been researched into the ground elsewhere!

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