Moving on

I’m leaving St. Louis today, but I’m not leaving this subject behind.


First of all, I have to write no fewer than 7 articles that have been commissioned by trade union and left-wing newspapers in Australia, Norway, Finland, Germany and Italy. When those are done, I’ll link to them and probably publish the English-language original versions here. This will give me the opportunity to pause and reflect on what has happened here in St. Louis this week.
I’ll be completely honest with you, though. On the one hand, I can understand perfectly the views of a friend, one of my fellow journalists covering the convention, who called it a ‘dog and pony show’, an orchestrated attempt to cover up what he called a totally unprincipled split in the labour movement, a power grab by some union leaders who had no real reason to split the AFL-CIO.
But on the other hand, having sat through hours and hours of convention discussion yesterday, hearing not only such impressive figures at the top as Tom Woodruff, Bruce Raynor and Andy Stern (and these are genuinely impressive figures), but even more moved by what local union leaders were saying — one cannot help but hope that these people are right, and this is a new beginning.
Here’s a thought: one of my closest friends is getting very interested these days in “what-if” views of history — you know, what would the world be like if, say, Kennedy had not been assassinated, or if the American South had won the civil war.
Let’s think about a different kind of what-if scenario: what if the CIO had not broken away from the AFL back in 1935. What if those who think that ‘unity’ is a sacred word had persuaded John L. Lewis and Syndey Hillman to come back into the ‘House of Labor’, and the CIO had never been born. Would the explosive growth of union membership in the 1930s — most of it coming to CIO unions — have happened?
If you could go back in time, would you tell Lewis and Hillman that they were making a mistake? Probably not. Most people agree that the birth of the CIO did offer real hope to American workers, and marked a new beginning for the labour movement in the USA.
Anyway, just some thoughts on the morning after …

One comment

  1. t.s.

    No of course we would not try and convince Lewis and Hillman not to found the CIO. At the same time, let’s be clear that the vision being pushed by the CtW folks is not nearly as robust as the CIO’s vision was, and the differences between CtW (and by extension Stern’s neo-Gomperism) and the AFL-CIO (which Stern derided as being stuck in a 1930’s sort of class conflict unionism!) are no where close those the preceded the CIO founding.
    Your friend is correct, this was an unprincipled split. I hope that good things (new organizing victories, growth for JwJ and groups like it, an attempt by some in labor to really discuss the political challenges facing our US and international working class, etc.); and these things will have to happen if the trade-union movement in this ca has a chance for any future at all. But if both sides cannot get on the same page about raiding and Central Labor Councils (CLCs) then we are going to see the 3rd side of this split vote with their empty seats at our meetings.