Monday, July 25, 2005

Labor's Love Lost

I spent six hours today in a meeting at the Ohio AFL-CIO and have declared that it's enough of a local connection to permit me to blog about the Big Labor Split within the self-imposed rules of the blog.

The split sounds pretty inevitable -- much has been written about Andy Stern, the arrogant hotshot vs. John Sweeney, the ossified old-school high chieftain. Fortunately, the spat seems mostly about tactics, not policy. It's not like half of the rump labor movement will suddenly line up behind Jeb in '08.

Generally speaking in human enterprise, it is better for a number of institutions to try different ways of going about business than one big institution following the same playbook for decades. John Sweeney may have had early success running it up the middle, but the other side has stacked the line and he's still going there. I am hopeful that small, fast, energetic upstarts like SEIU and Unite Here can put together a bootleg or two.

Certainly it has been the case in Ohio. SEIU was the lead union in organizing the coalition against TABOR, and their Stop Ohio's Slide was to my knowledge the only union-led media campaign in the last budget cycle. One SEIU organizer I talked to said that Stop Ohio's Slide was so successful in generating grassroots contact to the legislature that the leadership held a press conference to say it wasn't working.

The real potential for damage comes from Sweeney refusing to make a clean break of it. Like in any long term relationship, when the end comes you can nurse your wounds and move on, or you can become Scary Stalker Guy. Listening to Stern today, he sounded wistful, but hopeful about a new beginning. From Sweeney's comments, he sounds ready to boil the rabbit. Stay tuned.