An Open Letter to David Bonior

In 2005, several labor unions pulled out of ("disaffiliated from") the AFL-CIO and created a rival labor federation, "Change To Win" (CTW).  CTW unions have included the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Hotel and Restaurant Workers (now the cutely-named "UNITE HERE") and the largest union of grocery workers in the nation, the United Food and Commercial Workers.  

Former Congressman David Bonior (D-MI) has had close ties to organized labor for most of his adult life.  He has apparently agreed to broker a merger--or at least a treaty--between the venerable AFL-CIO and the upstart CTW.  The letter below, sent to union officials around the country, explains why a merger may not be the best idea. 



Dear Mr. Bonior, 

You should think twice about brokering any treaty/merger between the AFL-CIO and CTW.  Unity is not all it is cracked up to be. 

The stark fact--ignored by unity ideologues everywhere--is that the American labor movement scored its greatest organizing victories when there was no unity, i.e., when rival federations competed for new members, each federation calling the other "those bastards."  Since the CIO and the AFL merged in 1955, labor history has been a dreary tale of decline--especially in terms of private sector unionism.

Most historians recognize the New Deal and WWII as key reasons why unions grew during the "Era of Labor Federation Competition"--and those historians are surely right.   But there were other reasons.   One  was that "jurisdiction" broke down after the CIO seceded from the AFL, so unions had a freer hand organizing any workers they wanted to organize.

Jurisdiction, as you know, is a collection of rules about which unions are permitted to organize which industries.  (Think of zoning; this is zoning for workers.)   It is thanks to jurisdiction that a UAW local can't organize the workers at the Taco Bell across the street--even if the Taco Bell workers unanimously want to join the UAW rather than UNITE HERE.  So much for collective free choice.

The alternative: limit jurisdiction to a "no-raiding"  rule.  Neither the CTW nor the AFL-CIO is interested in doing this, sad to say.  Whatever their differences, they have a common ideology that keeps them from thinking this way. 

I realize that on the whole, politicians in every country would prefer that there be one national labor federation per country--"so you know who to talk to"--but what is most convenient for elected officials may not be what is best for organizing the unorganized.

Yours for Disunity, Chaos, and a Healthier Labor Movement,

Mark Koerner
March 2010                     


To give Mr. Bonior your own thoughts on

these issues, write to him at

American Rights at Work,



to reply to Mark, contact dogcanteen@yahoo.com


See also PAGE 3: After the Blast