Although it might be as simple as personal pique, the withdrawal of two of the country’s largest unions from the AFL-CIO this week does seem to reflect different strategies on the part of various labor leaders.
One complaint is that AFL-CIO president James Sweeney is spending too much union money on politics and not enough on organizing.
The issues are more complex than that, no doubt. But the labor movement is facing a crossroads after decades of decline. The strongest AFL-CIO unions are now almost all government-worker unions. Private-sector unionization is at historically low levels.
This is not surprising. Unions were designed for an industrial era and are have not adapted to an information economy. And competition, not union organizing, is the major factor driving wages and benefits up.
Pundits say this split will hurt Democrats, the major beneficiary of union political organizing. We’re not sure. Competition generally increases efficiency. Two competing labor groups just might boost the social and political influence of the union movement.
Whatever the case, workers ought to remember that wages increase as productivity increases, and unionization hardly guarantees increased productivity.