‘Labor is back?’: The AFL-CIO during the presidency of John J. Sweeney, 1995–2009

Source: Timothy J. Minchina, Labor History, Volume 54, Issue 4, 2013
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From the abstract:
This article assesses the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) during the presidency of John J. Sweeney, which lasted from 1995 until 2009. Drawing on a wide range of sources, including press accounts and the AFL-CIO’s own papers, it provides one of the first scholarly assessments of the entire Sweeney presidency. Sweeney won office in the first contested election in the AFL-CIO’s history, and he came into power promising to revitalize the Federation, which is the largest labor federation in the Western world. Under Sweeney, the AFL-CIO invested an unprecedented amount of resources into both organizing and political mobilization, two key areas. In the early years of his presidency, Sweeney oversaw some important gains, particularly in the organizing arena, but the 2000 presidential election proved to be a turning point. After 2000, Sweeney’s reforms were undermined primarily by external factors, particularly mounting corporate opposition, deindustrialization, and a hostile political climate, although internal resistance and division also played a role. As a result, a major campaign to secure labor law reform fell short, and union density continued to decline, yet the rate of decline was slower than it had been in the 1980s and early 1990s. Overall, although the results of Sweeney’s efforts were mixed, the important role that the AFL-CIO played in electing Barack Obama partly justified Sweeney’s emphasis on political mobilization.