On balance, the ChangeToWin suggestions are not bad. But are they splitting points? In other words, do they so differ from what Sweeney, et.al. are suggesting so as to justify a split? I think that the answer continues to be that they are not splitting differences. But more to the point, when i posed the Buffenbarger letter the other day it was really to suggest that we have to be quite clear as to what our strategic objectives are as a movement. In other words, if we understand that there is a qualitative point for the changing of power relations, we should identify it so that we know when we have reached it. It also becomes quite relevant in terms of structural changes. For instance, if we need to get 50% union density in 10 years, what are the structural implications not only for the AFL-CIO, but for those unions advocating restructuring? Also, what are the political, work-process and other obstacles that will need to be overcome in order to reach that goal?
I think we’d all agree that winning requires setting and holding ourselves to clear goals and workable plans to achieve them. And the goals and the plans should certainly be related. But that said, how differently would we really approach a goal of, say, 50% density in 10 years (from his mouth to God’s ears) from a goal of 60% density in 15 years? It seems likely to me that, as Jo-Ann Mort suggests, 8% private sector density is so far below the magic number that the path to get there isn’t so different whether it’s 35% or 51%.
I’m not sure what it means to say that we should identify “a qualitative point for the changing of power relations” “so that we know when we have reached it.” Won’t we know when we’ve reached the point where power relations change by noticing major change in power relations? Again, I’m all for setting goals for the sake of motivation and, more importantly, accountability. But it seems that our guess from this vantage point about what percentage of the workforce needs to successfully exercise its collective bargaining rights before we transform the relationship between labor and capital is likely less accurate than our observations down the line will be as (God willing) the numbers climb again about how much change has taken place.
For the moment, sadly, we may not know what winning looks like numerically, but we know all too well what losing looks like: declining numbers. So the question, at least as much as how high do those numbers have to go, is how do we get them to start increasing again. And Sweeney’s term, not because he didn’t try hard, but precisely because he did most of what he could within the confines of the AFL-CIO today, suggests to me that turning around that decline requires either significant change in the way the AFL-CIO works or a new vehichle to empower workers to take control over their lives. We’ll see how the former option fares in ten days in Chicago.