A POX ON BOTH YOUR HOUSES
David Moberg’s July 11 “Labor Splits Open” misses the political irony in the clash between AFL-CIO leaders hailed ten years ago as “reformers” and some of their ex-supporters, like Andy Stern and Anna Burger of the Service Employees International Union. Among the reforms now favored by the SEIU-backed Change to Win Coalition is scaling back what Teamster president James Hoffa recently called the “bloated bureaucracy” of the AFL-CIO.
Where did this pox on the labor movement come from? Well, in 1995 SEIUers–including Burger and Stern–helped their president, John Sweeney, become head of the AFL-CIO. At great cost to the federation’s treasury and pension plan, Sweeney then proceeded to “staff up” at headquarters and in the field–utilizing the organizational model he had previously employed at SEIU.
Sweeney brought with him a brain trust of top aides from SEIU–including PR adviser Denise Mitchell, lawyer Jon Hiatt and staffers like Bob Welch, Gerry Shea, Karen Nussbaum and Nancy Mills. Three of the four AFL-CIO organizing directors named by Sweeney have also come from SEIU (the fourth was an alumnus of UNITE HERE). Under Sweeney a new, centralized AFL-CIO organizing fund was created that returned millions of per capita dues dollars to affiliates for membership recruitment. The main recipients of these grants were SEIU, UNITE HERE and the Laborers (all part of the anti-Sweeney coalition today).
Now we are told that the process of “changing to organize” described above–widely hailed at the time (by Moberg and others) as innovative and exciting–has not succeeded. “Changing to win” today requires adopting a new program–developed by some of the same people who brought Sweeney’s New Voice slate to power and who, as a result, have wielded great influence in the federation over the past ten years.
Their current critique of New Voice failings might have more credibility if there was some acknowledgment of personal and organizational responsibility for creating the status quo at the AFL-CIO that is now so unacceptable as to require “a major breakup.”
Communications Workers of America
BEING HONEST ABOUT ABE
Since the civil rights revolution of the 1950s and ’60s, some historians have wistfully speculated that shortly before his assassination Abraham Lincoln adopted the ideal of a color-blind, multiracial America. In his review of my book What Lincoln Believed, James McPherson denounces me for not treating such speculation as established fact [“Twist and Shout,” June 13]. With equally intemperate rhetoric he has made the same criticism of recent books on Lincoln by William Harris (The Nation, June 14, 2004) and Lerone Bennett (New York Times Book Review, August 27, 2000).