You are here

Union Leaders Ignore Labor History, Double Down on Partisan Politics

Samuel Gompers was the first president of the American Federation of Labor and thus one of the most important labor leaders in American history. On his watch, the American Federation of Labor became the largest and most powerful labor union in the country during a time in American history when labor unions were hardly popular. Gompers’s success should prompt more labor leaders to follow his example if their goal is to shore up declining union membership. But, unfortunately for them, modern labor unions are hopelessly entrenched in political partisanship and therefore unwilling to follow Gompers’ strategy of “political nonpartisanship.” Instead, the radical leftist leaders of today’s unions insist that they must shore up their membership decline by focusing more on politics. ThinkProgress describes how David Reagan, the president of the notorious SEIU, thinks unions can gain back members:
Regan’s new plan to help unions “regain their relevance” is a reversal of what he argues has been happening for years: Unions have played defense, as politicians and business have worked to weaken them — and focused heavily on policies and rules that help their own members. Instead, he believes, it is time for the labor movement to “play offense” and focus on large scale action to help not just union members but working people across the country. And he proposes to do this by using the ballot initiative process available in 24 states.
Instead of assuming that Mr. Reagan hasn’t the slightest familiarity with the sports world based on his odd interpretation of “defense,” I’ll just say that he’s probably too bogged down in leftist rhetoric to see how modern labor unions are playing anything but “defense.” Also, to the point I made in my last post, Richard Trumka, the current president of the AFL-CIO, shows why union proposals for labor history courses in schools should be blocked because he claims that further engagement in partisan politics and supporting Progressives like Elizabeth Warren are getting back to the labor movements’ historical roots. Unless he is talking about the historical roots of every labor union but his own, Trumka is incredibly ignorant of labor history and groups that don’t understand their own history certainly shouldn’t teach it to others. If modern labor leaders like David Reagan and Richard Trumka decide to ignore the lessons learned from America’s most successful labor leader, they will be hastening their downward spiral into irreversible irrelevance. I actually agree with David Reagan when he says that a “new model of unionism” is needed. But my idea of what direction the new model should take is quite opposite of Reagan’s and more along the lines of the nonpartisan approach which Samuel Gompers advocated.