The struggle to preserve labor unity at state and local levels appeared to make some progress last week as the AFL-CIO and Change to Win federation reached an “agreement in principle” on implementing a “Solidarity Charter” program. The program would allow locals of unions that disaffiliated from the AFL-CIO at the national level to continue as members of state federations and central labor councils.

Solidarity Charter compromise

“We have made progress in our discussions with the Change to Win unions concerning the terms of the Solidarity Charter program,” AFL-CIO President John Sweeney reported Oct. 17. Sweeney said that the AFL-CIO has agreed that members from CTW unions could hold office in the state and central bodies. He reported that CTW unions had agreed with the concept of sharing the cost at the national level of supporting the work of the state feds and CLCs.

Change to Win Chair Anna Burger was more tentative in describing the agreement. “We are hopeful that an agreement will happen soon,” she said. She told the BNA news service that the discussion of financial support to the work of the state and local bodies would be in the context of an “overall financial discussion.” That discussion would include the issues of back per capita payments owed by the CTW unions to the AFL-CIO and participation by CTW in the AFL-CIO’s credit card program, which generates $25 million of revenue annually.

Five unions have broken away from the AFL-CIO: the Carpenters, Service Employees, Food and Commercial Workers, Teamsters, and Unite Here. Two others, Laborers and Farmworkers, are affiliated with both federations.

Local leaders insist on unity

Leaders of local affiliates from both federations have been adamant in their insistence on preserving the networks of solidarity that they have developed in recent years. Political action, strike support and organizing campaigns, they say, demand unity to be effective.

Jerry Butkiewicz, secretary-treasurer of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, told the World that if the agreement is cemented, “our local unions here in San Diego will be elated and relieved. We were worried that [the fallout from the breakaway] would destroy our unity and we had no control over it.” Labor unity, he stressed, has been responsible for great progress in electing labor-friendly candidates in his area. “We quit fighting ourselves and started taking on the enemy,” he said.

The San Diego City Council has passed a livable wage ordinance and is about to conclude a community-based agreement for the biggest development project in city history, Butkiewicz reported. The agreement will include provisions for environmental protections, card check union recognition, project labor agreements, affordable housing and affirmative action. “This is amazing because San Diego is known as a right-wing, military town,” Butkiewicz said.

Margaret Blackshere, president of the Illinois State AFL-CIO, was also optimistic about the new agreement. All of the affiliates from both sides of the split “have told us they want to continue to be part of the state federation,” she told the World. Unions are very loyal and committed to their national leadership, she explained. “We’ve been trying hard not to press them to make a choice. Leaders here have said they have no fight or disagreement with state and local leaders.”

Blackshere pointed to many accomplishments of the state federation, especially in the legislative arena: raising the state minimum wage, pay equity for women, and card check. “There’s things we can do even to protect ourselves from Bush,” she said, citing legislation to protect the overtime pay of the state’s workers. “It works if we all work together, so it’s frustrating to think that division is happening at a time when we all need to be together,” she concluded.

The AFL-CIO will extend its deadline for reaching final terms on the solidarity charters to Nov. 15. This will allow state and local affiliates to maintain their unity through the many state and local elections that will take place Nov. 8. Burger said she was scheduled to meet with Sweeney Oct. 21 to continue discussions.