American Labor Facing Civil War

2003/11/10 John Sweeney headshot, as AFL-CIO President
By Michael Zuckerman of the CBS News Political Unit.

A civil war is erupting in the American labor movement, with Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), leading the charge for reform.

Meeting with reporters recently in his Washington, D.C., headquarters, Stern contended that unions "cannot exist by looking backward" and must have the "strategies, resources, and leadership" to organize workers in the new economy.

Yet when the conversation turned to the AFL-CIO, the nation's largest labor federation, Stern remarked, "They don't quite get it."

The 1.8 million-member SEIU is the fastest growing union in the country at a time when labor's ranks are shrinking nationwide.

In the 1950s, nearly one in three American workers was in a union, while today that number is closer to one in eight; and when public workers are excluded, only one in twelve workers is in a union.

The outsourcing of manufacturing jobs, an increase in employer hostility to unionization and a complicated and often cumbersome legal process have contributed to the decline.

To reverse this decline, the SEIU has joined forces with the Teamsters, UNITE HERE, UFCW, and the Laborers in forming the Change to Win Coalition to challenge the leadership and direction of the AFL-CIO. Bruce Raynor, general president of UNITE HERE, in announcing the coalition said, "The labor movement, personified by the AFL-CIO structure, has been unsuccessful in standing up for working Americans."

The alliance was bolstered last month with the announcement that the 520,000 strong Carpenters Union will join the Change to Win Coalition.