A battle is brewing within the American labor movement that could greatly impact the future of the political landscape as well. At stake are millions upon millions of dollars in union political donations that go almost exclusively to Democratic candidates and causes.
Five dissident unions representing almost half of the membership in the AFL-
CIO want the union to put more money into recruiting and expanding union membership and less into political campaigns.
Union membership in the United States peaked nearly 50 years ago when almost one-third of American workers were union members. Today that number sets at just over 12 percent. And it continues to decline.
That sharp drop in members is what prompted the five unions to break away from the AFL-CIO. There are other issues as well but the core of the concern is the massive union money poured into the political campaigns of "pro-
labor" candidates. The track record in recent years of union money supporting Democratic candidates is less than successful. Yet at the same time the political funds are being spent, union membership continues to decline.
I suspect there will be some compromise reached because both factions in this union disagreement need each other. There's strength in numbers and no one knows that better than the union movement.
I believe one of the problems facing the political activities of the unions is their staunch support of single-issue, pro-labor candidates. Unions pour their money into the coffers of those candidates who pledge to support the labor movement but the unions often fail to look beyond those single-issues concerning the candidates. The American public - on the other hand - might like a candidate's support of workers but strongly oppose his position on other issues ranging from abortion to defense spending, etc. That tunnel-
vision on candidates by the leaders of the union movement has resulted in some mighty expensive losses in the political arena.
Unions continue to be a strong voice in the American political movement with their ability to generate funds. And it's doubtful that will end overnight. But the days when the union money and votes were essential for success is nearing an end. It's wise for unions to spend their money on recruitment and expansion of their membership. Without that changing focus, the money will evaporate and the union voice will grow silent.
I firmly believe the rank and file of unions realize this changing approach. Now if the leaders would just get the message.