Friday, 10 July 2009

US federation gets leader with ‘fire in belly’

Yesterday, former coal miner Richard Trumka announced his candidacy for president of the AFL-CIO. Media expect that he will be almost certainly elected in September and that he will make the federation more militant while introducing a more strategic approach. “I think he will be a real different type of leader. He has more fire in the belly,” a labour relations professor told the New York Times.
Trumka, now secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, has led strikes against coal companies in the 1980s. According to Reuters, he “harnessed civil disobedience and other tactics of the 1960s-era civil rights movement in leading successful strikes against the mining companies in the 1980s -- sit-ins, blockades of roads, mine occupations, picketing of corporate headquarters, and ensuring media coverage of police dragging away protesting miners.”
Last year, Trumka condemned racism in a speech that has been viewed over half a million times on YouTube and which has helped boost support for Barack Obama among white workers who were hesitant to vote for a black candidate.
Later this month, he will speak to the NAACP, hoping to enter a partnership to help low-wage black workers. “I don’t think we can reach these low-wage workers unless we build these partnerships so that we have entree into their community,” Trumka told the NYT. “My overall goal is to speak for all workers, young and old, union and non-union, and give them a voice.”
Currently, Trumka is involved in efforts to make more strategic use of union-managed pension funds as a lever to change corporate behaviour. He has announced that he will use online social network tools in order to attract new members.
Business groups have reservations about the candidacy of Trumka. A spokesperson of the Chamber of Commerce told the NYT that he is ‘obviously going to be very aggressive’ and that he will demonise employers to drive up membership.
Within union circles, some question whether Trumka is enough of a diplomat to deal with re-emerging tensions within the labour movement.

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