Public Angst - The Perfect Climate for Union Growth 11/25/2011

By: Ricardo Torres

AFL-CIO President, Richard Trumka’s union initiative to revamp their public image and rebuild their membership levels is starting to pay off for the unions who are riding the current wave of activism that are exploding throughout the U.S. (and the world).

With a price tag, which exceeds 25 million dollars, and through an army of some 3,000 volunteers, the unions have defeated Ohio Senate Bill 5 (SB5), which limited the bargaining rights of public unionized employees. Unions have fought for a referendum on SB5. Ohio voters soundly voted “no” on Ohio Senate Bill 5 Veto Referendum (Issue 2), which effectively killed SB5 that was passed in March of 2011. This vote went the union’s way because a clear majority collectively joined through a mass feeling angst and frustration to defeat the measure.

As I have written many times previously about the long term plans of the union, I have continuously said that the unions build their foundation of existence from the passion, anger and frustration the U.S. and throughout the globe. The Arab Spring protests, a series of protests in Arab countries and North Africa that started in 2010, were the perfect scenarios. The unions hoped that this would spread to North America, as it was the perfect scenario of frustrated masses moving against an established power. It was a “win by any means” attitude that the protesters were willing to lay down their lives for. Libya’s National Trade Union Federation (NTUF), formed by Muammar al-Gaddafi in 1972, turned against him and joined the rebels in over throwing his regime. U.S. union executives were communicating, supporting and learning from these actions. There are 23 unions in Egypt and one federation. The AFL/CIO was (and still is) in contact with all Arab Spring countries through the federations, which belong to the International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions (CATU), Organization of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU), and/or the World Federation of Trade Unions (which alone has 78 million workers and 105 unions worldwide). The WFTU even holds a consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. There are other international federations who operate under the same purpose as the U.S. federations such as the AFL/CIO and Change to Win. They are all intertwined and work closely together.

These U.S. movements do not happen in a vacuum. They are well planned and calculated. To piece them together over the past 40 years is like putting together a puzzle with the union infrastructure trying to ride a big wave (a populist movement) to be relevant once again. Like many places throughout the world, we have seen the unions reverting to a more aggressive activist role where they are more comfortable. In the summer of 2011, Trumka stated in a press conference that he wanted to give Wisconsin GOP Governor, Scott Walker, the “Union Organizer of the Year Award” for stirring up the latest union movement and helping the union’s align themselves with a majority of the American workers.

The unions benefit when there is an “us against them” climate just like there is with conventional union organizing campaigns. Unions know how to “ride a wave”, which is exactly what they have been doing, most recently with the Occupy Wall Street Movement. They are in the process of reinvention. Winnable fights like the Issue 2 vote in Ohio are easy bets that the unions are willing to invest time, money and energy in. This is how they are pushing their new movement forward.

Trumka was on hand in Ohio for the Issue 2 vote. He was knocking on doors as a publicity stunt. Of course, the AFL/CIO polls indicated that the union was going to win or he wouldn’t have been there. As I previously stated, the unions are going to be more aggressive while moving forward. One reason being that for the first time in nearly 20 years, you don’t have former SEIU President, Andy Stern and former AFL/CIO President, John Sweeney fighting with each other over organizing and resource strategies and the ensuing divided loyalties amongst union national leadership.

Trumka is much more aggressive and focused on the expansion of the Federation’s organizing thumb print. After all, that’s what this movement is really about. More members… more money… more power… and nothing else!

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