Activists and leaders of state and central labor councils across the U.S. have not given up on the idea of unity, even in the midst of a major split in the AFL-CIO. Traditional Labor Day parades, from New York to Detroit to Los Angeles and dozens of small towns in between, look to be a showplace for the continuing commitment to work together.

It is at the local level that great labor unity has been forged in recent years — in the heat of strikes, organizing campaigns and struggles for pro-worker legislation and elected officials.

“Solidarity out here has been very essential,” said David Kemnitz, president of the North Dakota AFL-CIO, in a phone interview. “It’s been carried on between locals and then transmitted up.” Kemnitz said that relations have been built over time with trust, understanding and friendship. “You don’t throw that away. We’re still brothers and sisters.”

He described a Labor Day picnic of the Missouri Slope CLC in his state that took place this week. “They traditionally have it early,” he explained. It was well attended, he said, with members of unions from both sides of the split as well as many friends from movements in alliance with labor.

Locals of unions whose internationals have quit the AFL-CIO are no longer eligible to participate in the central labor bodies and state federations, according to the AFL-CIO’s constitution. Many CLC activists were deeply disappointed that the federation’s July convention did not enact any measures to allow for exceptions.

Nevertheless, in the weeks following the convention, local activists were putting their heads together, both in their councils and informally, to find “wiggle room” to maintain alliances. “The split isn’t complete,” said one New York labor activist. “It can be weakened or reversed. We need to encourage every form of unity.”

“Nothing is stopping anyone from coalescing in common cause on strikes, contract enforcement, demonstrations,” said Kemnitz. He added that new financial difficulties for state federations such as his will be daunting. With the loss of per capita payments from a large portion of affiliates, he said, “the funding stream that was there has disappeared. The difficulty is in the financial strength of the institution that helps disseminate the message.”

In America’s workplaces many labor activists expressed frustration at the splitting action. Besides a lively Internet debate, which involved about 9,000 of the AFL-CIO’s 12 million members, few rank-and-file activists were part of the discussion. On the shop floor, it’s hard to find anyone who says that any of the issues raised to justify the split trump the issue closest to workers’ heart — unity.

Tags:

Comments

comments