New unity moves highlight labor meet

AFL-CIO charts election strategy, forms new partnership with NEA.
SAN DIEGO — A rainbow seemed to appear amid the gloomy clouds of disunity hanging over the U.S. labor movement when the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO announced a new partnership at the federation’s executive council meeting here Feb. 27. The NEA, with 2.8 million members, is the nation’s largest union. It has always been independent of the AFL-CIO.

Brightening the day even more, California labor leaders next announced that virtually all of previously affiliated locals in Change to Win unions in this state have maintained their affiliation with the state and local labor councils through solidarity charters.

The unexpected expressions of unity bode well for implementation of the national federation’s most ambitious-ever push in a midterm election. Despite huge budget constraints, the AFL-CIO is allotting $40 million to educate and mobilize union members and their families to “defeat elected officials who support corporate anti-worker policies,” according to a statement from the group’s officers.

“Where disaffiliated locals decide to affiliate locally, we will have a unified political program,” said AFL-CIO Political Director Karen Ackerman. The focus will be on recruiting and sustaining a corps of activists to carry the union’s message to workplaces, community walks, and phone banks, Ackerman added.

The solidarity charter program was developed last fall after several major unions split away from the AFL-CIO, taking more than a quarter of the federation’s membership with them and threatening the viability of state and local labor councils. But local union leaders and activists from both sides of the split dug in their heels and demanded the ability to continue critical cooperation. As a result, both the AFL-CIO and Change to Win agreed to the solidarity charter program. The charters allow the CTW locals to continue to participate in the councils.

Pressure from leaders of locals also provided the impetus for the new AFL-CIO/NEA partnership that will allow NEA chapters to affiliate with local and state labor councils.

Bruce McKim, a Louisville, Ky., high school science teacher and head of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, explained that his NEA chapter had been meeting with the national NEA and AFL-CIO leaders for years trying to work out a way to be an integral part of Louisville’s very active labor council. “All unions representing state workers have an interest in working together,” he said in a phone interview. But the AFL-CIO wouldn’t allow them to join without belonging to a national affiliate, and the NEA objected to joint affiliation. The solidarity charter program provided a model to end that stalemate, he said.

“Under the AFL-CIO/NEA Labor Solidarity Partnership, local affiliates of the NEA will be able to affiliate with the national AFL-CIO and join our local and state organizations,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney at a joint press conference with NEA President Reg Weaver. They “will have the same rights as other direct affiliates, including jurisdictional protection and representation and voting rights.” Sweeney called the agreement the most important step forward for labor unity since the merger of the AFL and CIO in 1955.

Weaver emphasized that the partnership would fortify the struggle for NEA’s “main goal,” to protect “every child’s right to attend a great public school.”

The local in Jefferson County was the driving force in seeking the agreement, he declared.

Weaver, however, made clear that joining the federation is not on NEA’a agenda.

In other actions, the council:

• Announced the formation of three Industry Coordinating Committees to synchronize bargaining and organizing strategies. “RN’s working together” is the name of the ICC representing 200,000 registered nurses in eight unions. The two other ICCs are still in formation. One includes 10 unions in arts, entertainment and media. The other takes in state and local government employees in nine unions.

• Rejected “guest worker” programs as bad policy for both native born and immigrant workers. (See story page 3.)

• Committed to educate the federation’s half million stewards to not only enforce their contracts, but to lead a movement to bring back American workers’ right to organize.

En español AFL-CIO anuncia nueva unidad laboral