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AFL-CIO’s Dull, Narrowly-Based Culture Has No Appeal to Young Working People

by Harry Kelber (repost) Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009 at 3:08 PM

Harry's over 90 years old, but he's nailed one of the big problems of the AFL-CIO's labor movement - it has no appeal to young working people. It's a bunch of old people - grandparents and great-grandparents.

“I think now is the perfect time to reach out to young people, because of the economic devastation we are experiencing,” says Liz Shuler, AFL-CIO’s secretary treasurer. “We need to “make sure they know that the labor movement is the best answer to their economic troubles,” she says.

What is today’s AFL-CIO offering students and young workers? A decent job? No. The Federation is not an employment agency. Then what are the benefits of joining? If you are lucky enough to be represented by a union, (less than 8 percent in private industry are). you can get better benefits from your employer through the union than if you act on your own.

In “educating” these young people about unions, what else do you tell them? That the AFL-CIO conducts sham elections where there are no opponents? That members have few rights, and criticism of leaders is strongly discouraged? Or that members receive no periodic financial reports about how their dues money is spent? (Please think of something favorable to tell them—and we’ll report it.)

Liz says there is a “need” to reach out to young people, but who will do it? When: and how? Apparently, our top labor leaders get credit for merely identifying a problem, but take no responsibility for solving it.

It is a sad fact that members are not publicly proud to belong to the AFL-CIO, as they were in the 1930s, when being a member of the CIO was a badge of honor. How do we explain the fact that there is so little involvement of the rank-and-file in AFL-CIO affairs?

*** AFL-CIO’s Culture Is Alien to Young Peoples’ Life Styles

It’s hard not to notice how utterly humorless AFL-CIO’s organizing literature is, and that goes for the speeches of its leaders. It would be a welcome note to hear AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka crack a joke in his standard pep talks that rarely contain anything about the problems of young workers.

Why is the language of all national labor leaders (including the few on the Executive Council who dare say anything), so dull and colorless? Why don’t they liven up their talk with an occasional comment about an NBA basketball team, or what’s doing in the world of rock star performers or a close look at the latest political scandal or other subjects young people talk about?

They would find little of interest in the web sites of the AFL-CIO and its affiliates or the labor press. They’d be puzzled why the AFL-CIO, after a four-year campaign for the Employee Free Choice Act, is still asking its members to send e-mails to Washington. What does that tell them about the Federation’s political power?

Shuler says: “Young people have in their minds that the labor movement is something their grandparents were involved in.” Well, In the 1930s, union leaders were in tune with the lives of young workers because a great many were young and came from workingclass families. Unions sponsored basketball, baseball and bowling teams that participated in inter-union tournaments. There were low-priced vacation resorts for workers, and a host of cultural events to choose from each weekend. There was a healthy mix of members from different unions.

Members’ rights were respected, and unions ran fair and open elections. By involving their members in organizing, the CIO was able to recruit hundreds of thousands of women and people of color. We can learn a lot from our “grandparents.”

Getting back to Shuler, when are you going to give us a requested report on the AFL-CIO’s financial assets and your role as financial secretary, for which we are paying you more than 0,000 a year?

* * * * *

In 2007, I wrote a pamphlet, “Belong and Be Strong,” addressed to high school seniors, college students and young workers. The 24-page, easy-to-read booklet was designed to acquaint the would-be workers with the advantages of belonging to a union.

Unions around the country bought hundreds of copies. The Texas AFL-CIO, in a “right to work” state, ordered and distributed 5,000 copies to young people, regarding it as a highly effective organizing publication.

The AFL-CIO, however, not only refused to order any copies, but would not even mention it, because I was its author—Harry Kelber

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another little fact ALF - CIA Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009 at 6:42 PM

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