This section of Discover The Networks examines the worldviews, agendas, and activities of America's most influential left-wing labor leaders.
One of the most important figures in the recent history of American labor is John Sweeney, who served as president of the powerful American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) from 1995 to 2009. A member of Democratic Socialists of America (the principal American affiliate of the Socialist International), Sweeney was instrumental in remaking labor into a progressive movement. Departing from the centrist liberalism and anti-communism of his predecessors George Meany and Lane Kirkland, Sweeney opened the AFL-CIO to participation by delegates linked to the Communist Party, which enthusiastically backed his ascent. NewZeal Blog investigative reporter Trevor Loudon has identified Sweeney's rise to prominence in the AFL-CIO in 1995, as a watershed moment in the imposition of "near complete Marxist control" over "the once anti-communist U.S. labor movement." Moreover, Sweeney turned his union federation into a major source of funding for the Democratic Party and its candidates.
Sweeney reired as AFL-CIO president in September 2009 and was succeeded by Richard Trumka, who had served as the union federation's secretary-treasurer (second in command to Sweeney) for the previous 14 years. By then, the AFL-CIO had turned away from blue-collar industrial unionism and the AFL-CIO's traditional emphasis on raising wages and improving working conditions. That old path had boosted union member wages so high, that up to 40 percent of members began voting Republican and complaining about high taxes and big government. The new unionisml, by contrast, focused on public-sector workers who could benefit from higher taxes and bigger government, and who therefore implicitly supported socialism and America's pro-big government Democratic Party.
As an AFL-CIO leader, Trumka has developed and promoted radical strategies and tactics -- like those of the 1960s New Left -- for recruiting additional members. These tactics include the formation of labor alliances with media, government, and radical activists to intimidate companies by threatening to inflict a "death of a thousand cuts" -- i.e., targeting a company's investors, its public image, its relations with government regulators, and more.
Unlike their more moderate predecessors, Trumka and his fellow AFL-CIO bosses see free-market capitalism not as essential to worker prosperity but as something to be despised and destroyed. Toward that end, he has implemented strategies to foment antipathy toward capitalism and an acceptance of "progressive" government throughout the union movement. The ultimate aim is not to boost members' wages, but to radically transform society. A key AFL-CIO initiative is its "Union Summer" program, a 10-week educational internship where participants "develop skills useful for union organizing drives and other campaigns for workers' rights and social justice."
Former New Leftist Andrew Stern is yet another radical who has assumed a major role in the U.S. labor movement. Stern served as president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the second-largest labor union in North America, from 1996 until April 2010. The economic model championed by Stern and SEIU includes universal health care, increased taxation, an expansion of social-welfare programs, and further opportunities for workers to unionize. According to Ryan Lizza, associate editor of The New Republic, SEIU leaders such as Stern "tend to be radical, even socialist."
Stern was trained in the tactics of radical activism at the Midwest Academy, which was formed by former Students for a Democratic Society members Paul and Heather Booth. This Academy was created to teach leftist community organizers how to promote social change and infiltrate the labor movement.
Stern openly condemns America's “market-worshiping, privatizing, deregulating, trickle-down, union-busting” economy; he calls for a “new American economic plan, led by the government, not necessarily led by the private sector”; and he urges the government to “distribute wealth through … tax policies, through minimum wages, through living wages. [and through programs] like Medicare, Medicaid, [and] children’s health insurance."
These are just a few of the labor union leaders who are profiled in this section of Discover the Networks.