The Tyrrany of Article XX

By May 27, 2005Labor Unions

Article XX of the AFL-CIO Constitution prevents unions from organizing (or “raiding”, in common parlance) the members of another AFL affiliate. For many years, Article XX has served as a lure for outliers to join and as powerful handcuffs that have kept in many a would-be renegade or dissident. Leave and you lose the protection of The State. Leave and you will be eaten.

So here’s John Sweeney, battled and bruised, a dismal record behind him, running for re-election. A group of dissidents representing some 5 million of the AFL’s purported 13 million members have banded together, rallying around what issue? Oh yeah, organizing. They’re angry that the AFL and most of its affiliates have lost their way, focused almost entirely on holding their own and intent on pouring their members’ money down the political rathole. These dissidents are hardly a a bunch of rabid Republicans, but their focus is on organizing, believing (rightly, we think, as would Sam Gompers and John L. Lewis) that the political clout will follow.

So here come all these anemic unions rallying around John Sweeney, touting the leadership of the man who’s seen their financial fortunes crumble, their membership drop — their political fortunes right along with it, the man who’s laying off a third of the staff. Man oh man, they say, we’ve never seen a better leader. Wow. Don’t you wish you could lead this group? You wouldn’t even have to get out of bed.

Along the way, they wring their hands and talk passionately about holding the labor movement together. But why? Look at Article XX. As long as they can hold it together, they won’t have to put up with any wacky upstarts hell-bent on organizing upsetting their apple carts.

Unfortunately, in doing so, they are about to see — indeed hasten — the rending of the AFL-CIO. Even if Stern alone leaves, he is such an aggressive (and successful) organizer that he will be out there organizing other AFL unions’ members and prospective members, unburdened by the constraints of Article XX. In this world, one man’s protection is another man’s constraint.

No wonder they speak of unity. Without it, they might actually have to think about spending some time and money on organizing.