Wednesday, 31 October 2007

USA: ‘1.5 million new members per year’

Two years ago, a bloc of unions broke away from American confederation AFL-CIO, promising to step up organising efforts. So far, results have remained modest, but expectations for the future are high, writes David Moberg.
“It hasn’t hurt the labor movement, but it hasn’t been good”, said Professor Kate Bronfenbrenner, looking back on the split. Critics say that the new Change to Win confederation has introduced more centralised decision-making and is ‘beginning to look like the All China Federation of Trade Unions’.
But others say that Change to Win unions have a strategy to organise large numbers of workers in the growing services sectors. “To work, this strategy requires intense research and more organizers, but also greater use of political clout, pension fund power, global labor cooperation and public campaigns against corporate employers”, writes Moberg.
One of the unions that seem to have benefited from the new situation is the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. With the help of local think tank LAANE, it formed a coalition with environmentalists and community organisations and organised 60,000 truck drivers (photo). And with the help of SEIU’s international network, it organised several thousand school bus drivers.
Unions are hoping that a more union-friendly government after next year’s elections will introduce legislation that will help them grow by 1.5 million members a year.
Change to Win itself is a small organisation, with about 35 employees and a 16 million dollar budget, most of which goes to its Strategic Organizing Center. Affiliated unions sometimes loan staff to the organisation.
“Rather than operating as a traditional, centralized organization, Change to Win sees itself as a coalition that puts decision-making in the hands of affiliate leaders and leaves much work, like policy research and lobbying, to individual unions”.

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