Monday, February 13, 2006

Stupid Think Tanks

Change to Win What?
Mackinac Center for Public Policy
By Thomas W. Washburne

The AFL-CIO’s troubles continued this month when the United Farm Workers became the latest labor organization to sever ties with the powerful union. The unraveling began last summer at what should have been the AFL-CIO’s glorious 50th anniversary convention. James P. Hoffa and his Teamsters spoiled the party when they officially withdrew from the AFL-CIO and formed a new coalition, Change to Win.

Instead of weakening unions, this split could invigorate the labor movement. But that will require abandoning old habits and the outmoded thinking that have guided union activities for so long.

The Teamsters’ letter of withdrawal showed promise in that direction. Hoffa stated that "Our differences are not about words, but are deep and fundamental. They concern the future of the labor movement in this country." Joining the Teamsters at Change to Win’s founding convention on Sept. 27 were several former AFL-CIO affiliates, with a total membership of more than six million.

Robert Reich, President Clinton’s secretary of labor, sees the AFL-CIO split along functional lines. In an article on labor’s division and decline, Reich suggests that those unions staying with the AFL-CIO, predominantly in the airline, auto and steel industries, will continue to focus on influencing politics in Washington, D.C. These unions are "intent on getting Democrats back in power so labor laws can be strengthened," according to Reich.

So how will Change to Win be different? The coalition’s constitution and bylaws shed little light on where Hoffa and his fellow union leaders intend to take organized labor, but it is clear that recruiting new members is key. Indeed, Change to Win dedicated three-fourths of its budget to this cause.

Reich sees Change to Win’s mission "less as preserving good jobs in danger of disappearing, and more as boosting the prospects of people trapped in lousy ones. They’re less interested in gaining political clout because the fate of their members is not closely tied to votes taken in Washington."


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