Worker of the world divide

Next Monday the 50th anniversary convention of the AFL-CIO will kick off in Chicago. Rather than a celebration of hitting the half-century mark, though, it's increasingly looking like the gathering will mark the end of the country's largest labor organization as currently constituted.

For months now, a breakaway faction of five national unions, headed by Andy Stern of the Service Employees International Union, has been threatening to secede from the AFL-CIO. Also signed on are the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Teamsters, the Laorers, and UNITE HERE.

Operating under the moniker "Change to Win," the group is seeking to push through significant changes in the way that the AFL-CIO operates. If they don't get their way at next week's convention they promise to bolt. (A sixth union, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, which left the AFL-CIO in 2001, has also pledged to join the renegade faction.)

The CTW coalition's primary complaint is that the AFL-CIO is not putting sufficient resources into organizing workers. They want the umbrella group to pour 50 percent of the dues paid by individual unions back into organizing core industries. The CTW folks also want national campaigns aimed at organizing massive corporations that are virulently anti-union, most notably Wal-Mart.

You can read the CTW manifesto here. The Nation recently ran a decent roundtable discussion featuring various labor leaders. Knight Ridder has the best primer on the dispute that I've seen. John Sweeney, head of the AFL-CIO, was interviewed on Talk of the Nation today. And there's a slew of interesting posts on this subject over at Talking Points Memo's House of Labor.


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