Sunday, March 13, 2005

Should Sweeney Go?

This post from Donkey Rising, picking up on an article in The New Republic by John Judis, agrees with Judis that labor unions in the US have done a poor job organizing under AFC-CIO president John Sweeney. Judis and Ruy Teixeira argue that labor has done no better under Sweeney (1996-present) than it had under previous AFL-CIO president Lane Kirkland (1979-1995). Neither Kirkland nor Sweeney succeeded in arresting the steady decline of the percentage of American workers represented by a union. But the decline in US union density has been happening since the 1950s. Clearly there are large structural issues that involve a lot more than who the president of the AFL-CIO. Although I agree that reform is needed in the labor movement, it could be argued that both Kirkland and Sweeney were at the helm during a political and economic period much more hostile to unions that any period since the 1920s. Indeed, the decline of unions since 1970 is an international phenomenon--union membership in Britain, for example, has also been steadily declining, but was almost 27% in 2002. I'm not necessarily defending Sweeney's policies--in fact, I'm sympathetic to the reform proposals of Andy Stern--but I don't think Sweeney or Kirkland can be held soley responsible for not reversing labor's decline.

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