Sweeney’s Death Grip

By March 4, 2005Labor Unions

Legend has it that before death, a person can sometimes exert a grip of brutal force, a last intense show of strength before passing. This phenomenon may well be playing out over at the AFL-CIO these days. In a March 3 article in the Washington Post by Tom Edsall, he reports that at the AFL-CIO Executive Council meeting in Las Vegas, John Sweeney and his forces “in a show of power, turned back a strong challenge to his control from dissident unions…”

Defeated were heretical initiatives by Andy Stern of the SEIU and Jim Hoffa of the Teamsters to force the AFL-CIO to shift some $35 million of its current funds into organizing so they could actually be about the business of signing up new members. Approved at the same meeting, reports Edsall, was a plan to double spending on political activity to some $90 million. This should put to rest any lingering doubt about whether this is a labor movement or a political movement. As icing on the cake, they heard from former screaming Presidential candidate and current Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean. Likely Sweeney challenger John Wilhelm was quoted in an article entitled, “Labor’s Inner War” by Harold Meyerson on March 4 as saying that if their goal is to change labor laws then they need to start by organizing more people. A radical — and unpopular — concept around the AFL-CIO, apparently.

An important point here is that in such votes, there is a “one union/one vote” rule. Unfortunately for Sweeney, in the election for President, unions vote their memberships, so behemoths like the disgruntled SEIU and Teamsters will have enormous power to unseat Sweeney, as they aim to do.

One regular blog reader and AFL insider wrote today to say that this was just “a lot to do about nothing”, and the real test will come in July in Chicago when the convention will choose its new President. Remember we said it here first that Sweeney won’t ride this out. If by some miracle he is re-elected at the AFL-CIO, he will rule over a smaller body as those intent on actually building their membership will bolt the federation and launch out on their own.