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Dems Have Huge Stake in Labor's Turmoil

Harold Meyerson's report on "Labor's Civil War" in the June issue of American Prospect qualifies as a must-read for Dems. Meyerson, American Prospect's editor-at-large, provides the kind of insider-informed reporting on organized labor's internal rifts you won't find in any major newspaper.

Meyerson describes the growing discontent within the AFL-CIO about labor's declining membership and limp organizing effort in all but a few unions. He also discusses the heated debate about allocating budget for organizing vs. electoral politics, and the powerful effect it's outcome will have on the Democratic Party's prospects going forward.

In late April, Sweeney’s problems were compounded when four of the insurgent unions -- the SEIU, UNITE-HERE, the Teamsters, and the Laborers -- abruptly moved to dismantle the crown jewel of the federation’s operation, its political program. They informed the federation that they were withdrawing the names of their members from the AFL-CIO’s political files, the computerized list with which labor wages its national, state, and local campaigns. The action threatens to undermine the foremost voter-mobilization campaign in the Democratic Party’s universe.

Meyerson points out that, as an immediate result of current internal strife, the AFL-CIO has implemented painful and extensive staff cuts. Internal turmoil may soon produce a change in top leadership, or even the establishment of a rival federation. Meyerson poses tough questions for the labor movement:

But how does a movement devoted to servicing that 8 percent organize the other 92 percent? How does a movement rooted in the Northeast, the Midwest, and on the West Coast organize in red-state America, where it needs to boost its numbers if the Democrats are to become a competitive party at the national level?

How indeed, and the answers to these questions will have very serious consequences for the Democratic Party. Republicans are no doubt hoping that the outcome will further damage labor's economic and political clout. But, given the increasing strength of the reform movement, it is at least as likely that the resolution of the AFL-CIO's internal disputes will enhance it's capacity as a political force.