Most men who hit their mid-life crisis and begin to question self-worth would buy a new car or join the local bikers club, but not so for AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and his aging labor unions. Labor is consumed with an identity crisis amid the widely held public perception that in today’s world unions hold little value. In an effort to bolster the dues-paying ranks of union members, unions have created a myriad of “worker center” alt-labor schemes, but the AFL-CIO now intends to include non-labor advocacy groups like the Sierra Club to better represent what it calls “the 99%.” Thus begs the question: Are labor unions even labor unions anymore?
Trumka plans to include non-labor advocacy organizations because, “What [labor has] been doing the last 30 years hasn’t worked real well. We need to do things differently.” At least Trumka can recognize labor’s decreasing relevance: While he may admit that they haven’t been real successful, we’re pretty sure he’s not going to own up to labor’s role in bankrupting Detroit, potentially bankrupting New York City, and supporting a national overhaul of healthcare that they would later regret on past, present, and potential future members.
According to pro-labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein, Director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy at the University of California-Santa Barbara, “The labor movement knows that it cannot function purely as a representative of those workers who happen to have collective-bargaining agreements with specific companies or local governments…It’s a return to its 19th-century roots when the labor movement claimed to speak for… ‘the 99%’ today.” In Lichtenstein’s sanitized history of the labor movement, he essentially admits that labor unions can no longer exist as labor unions.
Now, labor unions have digressed to simply representing liberal activists. One would assume that actually being an employee would be a reasonable requirement for labor union membership, but for unions, desperation calls for rash action.
These new “member” activists and labor also have their differences. For this reason, assimilation of non-labor groups may prove difficult for the AFL-CIO as tensions rise within the “Apollo Alliance” – a coalition of labor and environmental groups supporting green energy. The Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) left the alliance in 2012 following conflict over the Keystone XL pipeline project. LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan commented members are “repulsed by some of our supposed brothers and sisters lining up with job killers like the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council to destroy the lives of working men and women.”
Trumka’s plan to mix oil and (clean) water within the AFL-CIO is bold and dangerous for the unity of the organization. Such desperation is the sign of decline and realization that the AFL-CIO just isn’t as young as it once was. It may prove to be easier to just buy a new sports car.