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Has the Change Led to Wins? (cont’d)

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And in February, after SEIU’s Stern met with Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott to promote a health care coalition, UFCW’s Hansen was so upset that he wrote Stern that such developing conflicts were “a threat to the existence of Change to Win.” Wal-Mart has been the UFCW’s chief nemesis. Hansen said that Stern’s meeting “severely damages the campaign” the union was waging against Wal-Mart.The dispute contributed to the cancellation of a Change to Win project to cooperate on policy issues, such as trade and health care, according to one insider.

The disputes have hurt, says Hansen, but, he adds, “right now, Change to Win is stronger than a year or two ago.” However, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, who left the AFL-CIO long before the 2005 break-up, may not remain a meaningful part of Change to Win. Neither President Doug McCarron nor any detectable carpenter delegation attended the convention, and rumors persist that the union will soon leave the new group.

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Change to Win’s future hinges on its ability to undertake broad organizing campaigns.So far, the group has promoted campaigns that originated before Change to Win existed, but that kind of delay is not surprising since such campaigns typically require several years to succeed.

For example, the Teamsters, taking advantage of global union groundwork by SEIU, have organized several thousand school bus drivers. UNITE HERE!, implementing a strategy developed over many years but also aided by other unions,in the past two years has organized 6,686 hotel workers and has won employer neutrality for organizing drives at new hotels in six big cities.

Change to Win organizers, working with Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), have helped the Teamsters’ campaign organize 60,000 truck drivers at the nation’s ports.Classified as independent contractors who can not legally form a union, even though they usually work for only one firm, the workers earn meager wages and pollute the environment as they inefficiently idle long hours with their ill-maintained trucks. Organizers have broadened the campaign to include community residents and environmentalists in pushing for reform of port operations. In Los Angeles-Long Beach, they are close to persuading the port commissions to change employment arrangements so they can unionize, as they have long been ready to do.

This fall, Change to Win is launching two new campaigns. UNITE HERE! and UFCW will begin organizing the nation’s 440,000 drug store workers, only 8 percent of whom are unionized. The drug store campaign started with a shareholder initiative organized by Change to Win that forced the CVS pharmacy chain to pay $3 billion more than it initially offered to buy Caremark, a mail-order pharmaceutical firm, and forced one public director to resign.”CVS is a large anti-union employer and one of the least unionized of drugs companies,” Raynor says. “The message is clear: Unions have the ability to influence things near and dear to these giant corporations. It makes labor a factor in their decisions.”

Having greatly expanded their research and organizing staff and drawn on Change to Win resources, the Laborers are also starting a drive to organize more than 50,000 residential construction workers in the Phoenix, Las Vegas and the “Inland Empire” region near Los Angeles. “We could not have tackled this without the presence of Change to Win,” says Laborers President Terry O’Sullivan.The union has also boosted organizing funds and reorganized internally. “We’re not where we want to be or need to be,” O’Sullivan says, “but we’re moving in the right direction.”

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Change to Win has so far mainly affected how the national union leaders and staff organize their work, not the wok of local unions and their leaders, many of whom remain skeptical.

“I’m not a big fan of splitting the labor movement,” one official of a Change to Win affiliate said. “I’m not quite sure what’s been offered beyond the rhetoric.” And a close observer of UFCW’s long-running campaign at the Smithfield pork processing plant in North Carolina argues that state AFL-CIO organizations have mobilized more useful support for those workers than Change to Win or its affiliates.

Lower-level leaders and members have also criticized the increasingly centralized decision-making of Change to Win and those member unions undergoing transformation. After Change to Win leaders told the convention that the Leadership Council had a month earlier revised the constitution to eliminate the required rotation of leaders and then re-elected the entire Leadership Council, one delegate grumbled that the organization was beginning to act like the All China Federation of Trade Unions.

The debate about whether the Change to Win unions could have accomplished many of its goals while staying in the AFL-CIO is now moot. The split has occurred and the two camps will not reunite soon. The important thing for labor is that unions develop more ambitious, comprehensive organizing campaigns with vigorous worker participation at all stages. Also, whatever their federation, unions need to cooperate as much as possible on both organizing and political action.

In the future, after President John Sweeney retires at the AFL-CIO, the labor movement may come together again, but if organizing finally does surge, the reunified labor movement may look much different. “Some day I really believe there will be one labor federation again,” says Hansen, “but it won’t be what the AFL-CIO is now or what Change to Win is now.”

Labor supporters hope it will be much bigger and much stronger.

David Moberg, a senior editor of In These Times, has been on the staff of the magazine since it began publishing in 1976. Before joining In These Times, he completed his work for a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago and worked for Newsweek. He has received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nation Institute for research on the new global economy. He can be reached at davidmoberg@inthesetimes.com.

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