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Politics is breaking up that old gang of whine

By Michael M. Bates
web posted August 1, 2005

Union riveter Chester A. Riley would know what to say: What a revoltin' development this is. Two major unions broke away from the AFL-CIO last week with others likely to follow. When the dust settles, the labor federation stands to lose a third of its membership.

After 50 years of dominance in representing unionized workers, the AFL-CIO will now confront that which it abhors, competition.

Union power is predicated on monopoly. Use our members or go out of business, Mr. Employer. Pay our dues or go without a job, Mr. Worker. Protect us from overseas competition, Mr. President.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney speaks at the annual convention in Chicago on July 25
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney speaks at the annual convention in Chicago on July 25

AFL-CIO boss John Sweeney claims the exiting unions aren't leaving the umbrella organization for substantive reasons. It's just that their leaders thirst for greater power. The renegade unions assert that a break is necessary because Sweeney and Co. won't agree to their demands, chief of which is to spend more money on organizing workers and less on partisan politics.

Unions traditionally give Democrats huge campaign contributions. They also provide people to ring doorbells, register voters, work phone banks and staff polling places on Election Day.

It's hardly been a one way street. Organized labor has benefited by seeing its agenda advanced in Washington. Moreover, it's received billions of dollars in grants from the federal government.

Big Labor's leaders for many years have flatly insisted they represent the interests of all working men and women. They've even been known to do that with a straight face.

Less than eight percent of workers in the private sector belong to a union. That's a quarter of what it was in 1955.
Unions have fallen on bad times for a variety of reasons, several of them self-inflicted. They delude their members into believing that they have a "right" to a particular job. That's never been true, but in today's global economy it's even less so.

Unions cheat their members by using dues to make enormous donations to Democrats, even though many members don't vote for Democrats. Big Labor has become Big Brother, making decisions for union brothers and sisters unable to arrive at the "correct" conclusion without help.

How many times have union leaders used pension funds to enrich themselves or their pals? In one recent year, almost half of the Justice Department's racketeering investigations centered on union pension and welfare funds.

Consider the impact of unions on certain segments of the economy. The auto, airline and steel industries are examples of what happens when organized labor demands raises no matter the effect. In some instances, they have priced themselves out of a job.

It's no accident that we've achieved unprecedented prosperity during the same period union membership has dropped like a rock. Yet listening to union bosses and their friends, you'd think we were still in the depths of the Great Depression.

They speak in shadowy terms of class struggle. The them versus us mentality thrives when they get together. From the AFL-CIO convention this week:

"In the last 10 years - in a period when the union movement has been up against some of the BIGGEST OBSTACLES and fighting some of the MOST VICIOUS ENEMIES it's EVER BEEN UP AGAINST. . . (Emphasis in original.)

"Because at a time when our corporate and conservative adversaries have created the most powerful anti-worker political machine in the history of our country, a divided movement hurts the hopes of working families for a better life.

"Make no mistake - there's an organized movement against organized labor.  This organized movement is called the Bush Administration, and it stands against working families - against fair wages - against decent health care - against Social Security - against the 40 hour work week - and against over time pay.   It stands against all the progress we've made in bringing fairness and justice to hard working families across America."

Complain. Beef. Gripe. Grumble. Whine. No wonder the labor movement is dying everywhere but among government employees.

Still, competition is good and might even help organized labor in the long run. The AFL-CIO defections could lead to union members eventually getting something in return for their union dues.

Mike Bates is the author of Right Angles and Other Obstinate Truths. This story appeared in the July 28, 2005 Oak Lawn (IL) Reporter.


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