John Sweeney’s Legacy and the Future of the AFL-CIO

Source: Victor G. Devinatz, WorkingUSA, Vol. 13 no. 2, June 2010
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From the abstract:
Assuming the federation presidency in the first contested election in AFL-CIO history, John Sweeney, elected as a reform candidate in 1995, vowed to halt U.S. labor’s downward trajectory through the launching of massive union organizing drives and implementing an array of innovative programs. Although he initially inspired tremendous confidence in various sectors of the U.S. trade union movement, by 2003, an incipient opposition movement to Sweeney had emerged within the AFL-CIO which culminated in a number of unions leaving the federation and forming the Change to Win Federation in 2005. This article critically analyzes the fourteen-year administration of John Sweeney as president of the AFL-CIO (1995-2009). I argue that although the Sweeney administration made a number of important advances when compared with the previous two administrations of George Meany and Lane Kirkland, Sweeney’s approach was fundamentally flawed because he implemented a type of social movement unionism from above. This article concludes that for a revival of the U.S. trade union movement to take place, a social movement unionism from below must be developed by the rank-and-file workers themselves.

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