John Sweeney: The Sky is Falling

By January 19, 2006Labor Unions

We had the good fortune yesterday of attending a lunch at the National Press Club with guest speaker, John Sweeney, President of the AFL-CIO.

Upon entering the room of about 24 tables, we were amazed at how many the unions had bought up, looks like not many regular people really cared what he had to say, so they had to hire people to care. And, honestly, we’re not surprised, I mean, how often do you really want to go to a speech where you get to relive the Great Depression?

True to form, John Sweeney was spreading his message of doom and gloom, I guess in his world, its better it attract flies with vinegar. Much of his remarks spoke about stopping “court packing,” and the “senseless slaughter of good American jobs.” Funny, last we heard, the economy was doing well. Mr. Sweeney also could barely lift eyes off his prepared remarks; he obviously didn’t have much prep time.

Part of his speech focused on his dream: “If he were President of the United States.” Yikes. He remarked that if he were delivering the State of the Union, he’d note how America is not creating new jobs to keep up with growth, that these jobs were “dead-end jobs.”

In fact, the unemployment rate is 4.9%, which, economically speaking, most economists regard as close to “full employment.”

Mr. Sweeney briefly addressed the Change to Win Coalition and the recent split in the AFL-CIO last summer and informed the audience to “watch what we’re doing” and promised that they would spend more time organizing and ginning up efforts like Working America. We hope he holds up to that promise.

So, there, that was his speech. But nobody ever really comes to a Press Club event to hear the speech; they wait in eager anticipation of the extemporaneous Q&A session.

This is where the real fun happens.

Right out of box, he was asked about the Change to Win Coalition and how it will effect the 2006 elections. Sweeney remarked that the split was “unfortunate that a few unions left.” A few? Try one-third of his membership. Therein lies the chief reason why John Sweeney still doesn’t get it: he thinks that what happened last summer was a small rumble…in reality, it was an earthquake.

Sweeney also remarked that the Change to Win Coalition “can’t do anything substantial” and then took a more somber tone to remark that the more united labor is the more successful it will be and that “we’re doing everything we can.” We’re glad the blogosphere is out there to enshrine those comments. On the subject of “what would it take it get back together with the split away group” Sweeney was unable to answer the question. Maybe he should talk to Andy Stern.

Sweeney is a very good politician in that when he doesn’t want to answer a question, he won’t, and make you believe he just did. For instance, a question came up about a recent article in the Wall Street Journal how the SEIU and the AFL-CIO have competing efforts in trying to organize Wal-Mart. Sweeney remarked, “We’re not fighting.” As Dr. Evil would say, riiight.

All told he answered some twenty questions and was then presented with the Press Club mug and certificate. With the final question yet to asked, we figured that ours just didn’t make the cut…but in fact the moderator saved the best for last, our own!

When asked about the impact of blogs (amidst a low-rumbling groan from the audience) Sweeney said “it’s a challenge for me. I have some ‘upskilling’ to do amongst all my computer problems.” While admitting that he didn’t want to address the question directly, he did emphasize the importance of taking advantage of the latest communication technologies to reach out to organize workers more.

With that, the event concluded and thanks to power of blogging–a power Sweeney admits he has yet to utilize–we can refer back to his comments again and again, and we will.