No Surprises at AFL-CIO Convention

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Read the scores of resolutions and speeches that emanated from the AFL-CIO’s 24th Biennial Convention held in Las Vegas during Dec. 2-6, and tell us if you find any mention of the principal strategic outlook that drives 21st century bureaucratic trade unionism in the U.S.

As anyone knows who follows contract negotiations, pays attention to the comings and goings of union officials high and low, and painfully reads their speeches, the chief strategic principle of the union officialdom is to do whatever it takes to keep the bosses in business.

Truth to tell, there are few union officials left who say, “If the bastards won’t pay a decent wage, then let them fail!”

If we didn’t know better we might expect that at least one of the main sessions of the convention might discuss the alleged benefits workers have gained from decades of labor-management committees, quality-of-work-life-circles, profit-sharing plans, labor officials sitting on corporate boards-and no-strike clauses in virtually every three, four, five and seven-year contract.

But no, the subject didn’t come up in the formal discussions or in one of the numerous resolutions. The delegates did discuss important issues, such as immigrant rights, but didn’t spend one moment drawing up a balance sheet on the worth of its “innovative,” though sticky relations with the boss class.

As a result of those relations even “pay raises” are not what they may seem to be. U.S. workers’ share of the wealth they produce, as measured by the Fed’s Gross National Product statistics, clearly show that the bosses and taxes are getting hundreds of billions of dollars each year that once would have gone to workers.

One hoped in vain for a voice from the convention floor to shout that the union officialdom can’t and won’t build a movement that inspires passionate rank-and-file dedication as long as it ultimately remains in bondage to the demands of profiteers and fails to win real victories.

That is, victories that are actually setbacks for the bosses. That is, victories that can only be won by the united strength of the U.S. working class.

President John J. Sweeney rightly complains that bosses are using the Sept. 11 tragedies as a cover to wage war on American workers.

Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka says many bosses under the cover of the attacks are “wringing concessions that they really don’t need. When there’s a legitimate problem, unions will respond. When there isn’t, we’ll resist.”

But Trumka’s own union, the mineworkers, is so weakened by concessions that it’s a basket case, down to two national officers!

Still, Sweeney’s and Trumka’s calculated righteous anger brings to mind the short-lived outrage of then-UAW president, Doug Fraser, when in 1978 he resigned from the Labor-Management Group, a collection of bosses and labor tops who sought, it was said, to tweak and shape the course of the postwar’s so-called labor relations, the infamous “social contract.”

“I believe,” Fraser said, “leaders of the business, with few exceptions, have chosen to wage a one-sided class war in this country-a war against working people, the unemployed, the poor, the minorities, the very young and the very old and even many in the middle class of our society.

“The leaders of industry, commerce and finance in the United States have broken and discarded the fragile, unwritten compact previously existing during a period of growth and progress.”

Just months later, his outrage seemingly under control, Fraser joined the AFL-CIO head, Lane Kirkland, and backed President Carter’s National Accord, a pact to restrain workers’ wages and boost productivity.

If history is a guide here, Sweeney and Trumka, like Fraser and Kirkland, will accommodate themselves to the one-sided class combat that the bosses wage-war or no war.

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