Monday, July 25, 2005

Labor in Crisis

The decision by the SEIU and the Teamsters (soon to be followed by UNITE and the UFCW) to leave the AFL-CIO is a dramatic moment in the history of the labor movement here in the US. Not since the CIO quit in the 30's has labor been so divided.

The marriage between service unions and trade unions has been rocky for a while, in no small part because the industries are extremely different. The reasons for the split are extremely complicated and deal mainly with how much energy should be put into organizing and recruiting (an important issue for the service unions, less so for the trade unions), but certainly also include the personalities of the leaders involved. Andy Stern of the SEIU has always had ideas that conflicted with the leadership of the trade unions, and the Teamsters under James Hoffa have always been a bit of a wildcard. It is not surprising that the most dynamic unions are leaving, while the more entrenched, but shrinking, unions want to keep the status quo.

This is certainly bad news for Democrats who have come to depend on Big Labor for GOTV, as well as, sizeable donations. However it is a necessary step if unions are to adapt the economic realities of the 21st Century. After all, to paraphrase Darwin (we are still allowed to quote Darwin, right?), evolve or perish.