||Issue No. 273||22 July 2005|
Interview: Battle Stations
Unions: The Workers, United
Politics: The Lost Weekend
Industrial: Truth or Dare
History: A Class Act
Economics: The Numbers Game
International: Blonde Ambition
Training: The Trade Off
Review: Bore of the Worlds
Poetry: The Beaters Medley
The Locker Room
Keep the Faith
Life on a Low Wage
Seeing the Trees For the Wood
Carnival Comes to Town
This weekend a group of America's four largest unions, representing 30 per cent of the US movement, will boycott the AFL-CIO convention in Chicago, beginning a seemingly irreversible march to disaffiliating from the peak body.
As of print time, the SEIU, Teamsters, UFCWIU and UNITE HERE look likely to walk away from the AFL-CIO, withdraw their affiliation fees and set up their own movement.
Trying to make sense of the schism from afar is always difficult, but from what I can make out the dissidents led by SEIU chief Andy Stern want the AFL-CIO (led by former SEIU chief John Sweeney) to shift its emphasis from political campaigning to grassroots organising.
At issue is the question of whether the political-organising funding model should be about 60-40 or 40-60.
Of course, this budget is only the emblem for deep-seated frustrations created by a hostile political environment, a shrinking membership base, and personal ambitions fuelled by desperation to find a Messiah with the one big solution.
There is no denying that unions are struggling in the USA, with single figure coverage in the private sector, and that the case for changing tactics in a particularly hostile environment would appear compelling.
But look through history and very few splits make either the splitter or the split-ee stronger. From Caesar and Antony, through Trotsky and Lenin, to the ALP and DLP - they've all ended in tears.
But why would we in Australia care if the US union movement proceeds to eat itself?
First, while we might not like to admit it, much of our union strategy has been driven from the USA in recent years. The so-called organising model that has reached the level of faith in some quarters was a direct application of the US doctrine.
Moreover, America exports most of its ideas and the US labour movement's failure to tame major corporations is an international commodity coming to a workplace near you.
Secondly, some of those looking at IR reform beyond the Howard assault see US-style 'recognition ballots' as the end game of Labor's response - enshrining bargaining rights at the workplace and allowing unions to levy bargaining fees on non-members who benefit from their work.
In this context, we will be looking at the US for strategies to win recognition ballots, and there's no denying the SEIU do it well.
Thirdly - and most importantly - the SEUI is thinking globally and has recently put up $1 million to be spent in Australia - ostensibly to further the cause of organising in multinational corporations.
Exactly how is unclear, but the prospect of the establishment of a separatist structure within the Australian movement is the last thing we need right now.
You only have to look at Chicago to see where that inevitably leads. Disunity is death.
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