American trade unions, SEIU and the Teamsters have disaffiliated from the national AFL-CIO confederation, and four major unions – the Teamsters, Food and Commercial Workers, UNITE HERE, and SEIU – decided not to attend the federation’s national convention.
The four, along with the Laborers, Carpenters and Farm Workers unions formed the 6-million strong Change to Win Coalition to rebuild union power in the face of the anti-union welfare-cutting agenda of the Bush regime.
The SEIU and other unions have tried for ten years to get the AFL-CIO to adopt changes that would unite the strength of millions more workers in each industry.
It became clear on the eve of the AFL-CIO convention that the AFL-CIO was not prepared to change.
AFL-CIO leaders adopted many of the words contained in Change To Win Coalition proposals but never agreed to adopt the strategies that have worked to build growing strength and unity for SEIU members.
The SEIU letter of disaffiliation makes clear that SEIU will continue to participate in and support local labour councils, the AFL-CIO political programme, and other common efforts.
It also says SEIU will seek agreements with AFL-CIO unions to work together to unite the nearly 90 per cent of US workers who have no union and not to raid each other and waste resources in disputes involving the few workers who already have unions.
The Change To Win unions are committed to coordinated campaigns to unite all workers who work in the same industry or occupation and to ensure that the union movement at all levels reflects the diversity of today’s workforce.
Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa said in a joint announcement Monday: ‘Good afternoon. This is an historic day. I join my brother Andy Stern and the great SEIU.
‘I am here today to announce that the General Executive Board of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters has unanimously voted to withdraw our membership from the AFL-CIO.
‘This decision has been reached through a lengthy and thoughtful process. It has been a difficult decision to make and we do not take this step lightly.
‘The Teamsters General Executive Board is directly elected by our 1.4 million members to chart the course of our great union.
‘And after months of discussion and deliberation, we have made our decision as a matter of principle and have decided on a new course of action.
‘We submitted, in good faith, proposals to dramatically change the direction of the AFL-CIO to stem the losses that we have endured over the past decade.
‘We proposed that the AFL-CIO embark on a new course of action that would not only protect our existing Teamster members and their families, but lead to thousands of new working men and women having the opportunity to organise into a strong union that would give them the chance to achieve the American dream – to own their own home, send their kids to college and plan a strong retirement.
‘In our view, we must have more union members in order to change the political climate that is undermining workers rights in this country.
‘The AFL-CIO has chosen the opposite approach.
‘Today’s decision means that we have chosen a course of growth and strength for the American Labor Movement based on organising new members.
‘We have partnered with seven strong and progressive unions in the Change to Win coalition to organise the unorganised and create real power for the working families of America.
‘Earlier today the leadership of the Change To Win coalition met with our respective organising directors to set in motion a process of building larger scale strategic organising capacity.
‘This is just the beginning of a new era for America’s workers.
‘And let me be clear, the Teamsters will remain the bulwark of the labour movement.
‘Striking workers, no matter what union they belong to, can always count on the Teamsters for support and assistance. That is our history and tradition and we will never waver from our proud role as defenders of America’s working families.
‘We will continue to work with our brothers and sisters in the Building Trades, in State Federations and Central Labour Councils to achieve justice for all working people.
‘But let me be clear, our coalition will not allow corporate America to pit one union against another to the detriment of our members and their families.
‘We wish our brothers and sisters that remain in the AFL-CIO the best of luck in their efforts. We pledge cooperation with the AFL-CIO on all the fronts that affect working families.’
An SEIU statement announced Monday: ‘The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which with 1.8 million members was the largest and fastest growing union in the AFL-CIO, has officially disaffiliated from the national federation, effective today.’
The disaffiliation letter from SEIU President Andrew L. Stern noted that SEIU has in the past nine years ‘developed new strategies and new priorities to ensure that workers in our sectors of the economy have their hard work valued and rewarded.’
As a result, says the SEIU, it has helped more than 900,000 workers – most of them low-wage people of colour, immigrants, and working women – to join the union movement and in so doing to gain health coverage for their families, retirement benefits, and the training, staff, and tools to provide quality service.
‘We know that all the leaders of the AFL-CIO would like to see a world where workers’ efforts are valued and rewarded,’ Stern said in the letter to AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. ‘But for many years, and particularly in the past nine months, our members and leaders have concluded that there are sincere, fundamental, and irreconcilable disagreements about how to accomplish that goal.
‘We respect every one of those who have heartfelt ideas that differ from ours, and recognise and appreciate that they too have devoted their lives to the union movement.
‘But there comes a time where if we can’t reach agreement on basic principles, we should each devote our efforts and resources to pursuing strategies we believe will help working people navigate the rough waters of the global economy, while supporting each other’s efforts wherever we can.’
Stern added: ‘We believe that the next decade can be a time of innovation, new strategies, new energy, new growth, and new ideas that will bring to life a new, 21st century American Dream.’