John Sweeney, recently re-elected to his post at the top of the AFL-CIO, was aggressive about the defections of the SEIU and Teamsters from the conglomeration of unions over which he has presided since 1995. The fact of the matter is, he should be defensive.
In his 10 year tenure, Sweeney has overseen the largest exportation of jobs out of the country of any big labor leader. He hasn't tried to make labor more competitive. Furthermore, Sweeney hasn't tried to expand it's influence into segments of the economy that are actually growing, focusing all of his attention on Rust Belt manufacturing rather than service-sector industries like Wal-Mart. This is especially disconcerting when Costco succeeds by paying its workers well, providing a model for success that AFL-CIO could target.
If everyone is bleeding manufacturing jobs, Sweeney can excuse his piss-poor performance as a result of globalization. However, this doesn't excuse the focus of his presidency, amplifying the political strength of the union. Sweeney's focus on the union's role as financier and vote-getter for the Democratic Party has been a horrendous failure. Sweeney presided over the complete domination of the US Government by Republicans. Many of these gains were made possible by big labor states, like West Virginia, Ohio and Indiana, going red. Sweeney's labor message, it seems, can't compete with Labor workers' love of Guns and God. Sadly, Sweeney's in bed with the Dem's approach also led to the alienation of Labor votes in Coal Country, where the Dem's environmentalism was at odds with the economic realities the Ohio River Valley.
Sad thing is, it seems Sweeney doesn't see the perfect storm brewing above. Declining membership means less PAC money and fewer votes. His repeated failures aren't even the problem. It's the unsustainability of the trends that have defined his tenure AFL-CIO members should be worried about.
Sweeney's record is one of repeated failure. But then again, an organization which frequently finds itself defending worker's jobs against economic sensabilities and performance realities in absence of a market-driven strategy would reconfirm failure. The AFL-CIO, if it wants to survive, should stay united... under the Presidency of Andrew Stern.