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March 25, 1956 - Image 1

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Sunday, March 25, 1956 THE MICHIGAN DAILY Page One

LAO0 Merger Created a Labor Symbol -
Not an Economic and Political Power

Professor of Economics
TO THE surprise of most experts, the
American Federation of Labor and the
Congress of Industrial Organizations have
merged. The headline writers now desig-
nate the merged group as the "giant labor
federation"; others call attention to the
increased danger of labor monopoly
threatening the freedom of our competi-
tive economy. Many see the theat of
political control by organized labor's 17
to 18 million members,
These fears suggest that with labor's
coming-of-age, an increasing number of
critical questions are being asked about
the merger, labor power and labor poi-
and C.LO. surprised many students of
labor organizations in the United States.
'While the logic of the merger was long
apparent. the conflicting jurisdictional
claims of the rival unions appeared to be
The eighty-five year history of the
A F.L. seemed to confirm the belief that
competitive jurisdictional issues between
the unions associated with the C.I.O. and
those with the A.F.L. would have to be
resolved before a genuine merger could
take place.
Rival union claims for jurisdiction and
for members, have in the past not been
easily resolved. Quite the contrary, these
claims have been stubbornly defended
and compromises have been difficult to
achieve. In addition, the personal politi-
cal fate of some union leaders was also at
That the meyaser took place without a
settlement of conflicting claims suggests
that the real problem of unity of Ameri-
can organized labor is still to be achieved.
What took place is, in fact, only an amal-
gamation of the two top federations.
Had true labor unity been insisted upon,
at this time, there would probably have
been no merger. The merger took place
only because the power structure of Amer-
ican labor organizations was not dis-
The real centers of economic power
in the American labor movement were
never located in the A.F.L. or in the
These federations have performed an
important coordinating role-they have
acted as spokesmen for organized labor.
rhey have represented the national unions
in legislative and lobbying activities. The
real seat of power was always located in
the affiliated national organizations. It is
these unions who carry on collective bar-
gaining, control the more than 77,000 local
labor unions, and often sway the economic
fortunes of major industries.
Effective unity among American Trade
unions cannot be achieved only by a
merger at the top. When the rival unions
in our major areas of economic activities
consolid te, the objectives of a merger
will be achieved
O BE SURE, the merger of the A.F.L.
and the C.I.O. is likely to mitigate
jurisdictional rivalries among many of
the unions. The "no raiding pact," work-
ed out some years before the merger was
accomplished, may avoid the more trou-
blesome of such disputes, In addition, the

rival unions now members of the same was before the merger, a voluntary
federation, will be subjected to greater association of its autonomous unions.
moral suasion to settle their difference It is not a great trust. It cannot call
without open warfare. strikes. It does not carry on collective
It is well to remember, however, that bargaining. Its 15 million members
the affiliated unions consider them- represent a symbol and not a group
selves as sovereign and autonomous. subject to direction and control.
In their major activities they are not This should not suggest that the merger
subject to direction or control of the is without significance. The new A.F.L.-
National Federation. Even expulsion from C.LO. represents the largest single organi-
the Federation usually fails to carry any nation of citizens in the United States.
sort of sanction which adversely affects Its very size is bound to encourage the

and economic gains among unions has not
always been for the public good.
THE very size of the new federation
should compel a greater degree of
labor responsibility. American union
leadership knows that as a people, w
are suspicious of bigness, whether it be
government, big business, or big unions.
These leaders also know that the Ameri-
can community is middle-class minded
and that prevailing public opinion is
not pro-labor. This awareness suggests
that the new federation will have to be
careful in its pronouncements and its pro-
grams if it is not to incur public dis-
The emphasis already given to "keeping
labor's house in order" indicates that the
leaders of the federation are sensitive to
public opinion.
By its conduct, the federation must
convince that its very size is not likely
to be an impediment to the efficient
working of our competitive and demo-
cratic society.
IN THE past twenty years American
labor has become increasingly more
active on the political scene. Both the
C.I.O. and the A.F.L. brought into being
political action units, financed and cam-
paigned for favorite candidates. Will the
merger produce a higher tempo of politi-
cal action? Will it lead to greater political
power? To an independent political labor
Everyone is agreed that it will not lead
to an independent labor party on the
British pattern. There is nothing in Amer-
ican political experience which suggests
that such a step would be successful or is
desirable. Quite the contrary-independ-
ent political action by labor with a labor-
sponsored candidate does not fit the
American political environment. It has
failed before.
Our experience suggests that the Amer-
ican community does not vote on class
lines; that the same trade union members
who may accept the union's view as to
what is good on the job front will reject
its views as to what is good for the com-
munity. As a result, candidates with a
labor label are seldom successful.
The threat of "labor domination" in
the political sphere unites the rest of
the community against the labor candi-
date. Labor leaders understand these
historical facts.
MOREOVER, the American primary
system makes an independent politi-
cal party unnecessary. Organized labor
can influence the selection of candidates
by an active participation in the primary
election within the two-party system. It
is in this area that we are likely to see
an intensification of labor political activi-
Whether labor's influence will be suc-
cessful will depend on several factors. The
level of employment and economic condi-
tions generally will have an important in-
fluence. The general community reaction
to big labor and its behavior will also
be important. In general, the prediction
that we are on the threshold of a phe-
nomenal increase of labor political power
appears to me to be greatly exaggerated,
In brief, it seems to me that the impor-
tance of the merger of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.
has been very much overstated. The new
organization has symbolic rather than
economic or political significance.

the economic position of the expelled
John Lewis's United Mine Workers, for
example, has not been a member of the
A.F.L. for many years and is not now a
member of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. Other unions,
at one time or another, have resigned or
been suspended without apparent ill ef-
fects on their fortunes.
Thus, the mere coupling of the names
A.F.L. and C.I.O. and the combining of
their membership may create a psycho-
logical sort of unity enhancing the status
and sense of importance of the trade
union movement. It does not, however,
create a potent labor federation. The
new federation has no power in an eco-
nomic sense. The power centers remain
in the national unions where they have
always been.
The Federation still remains, as It

affiliated unions and give them a new
sense of importance and bigness.
The new Federation may also be in a
position to provide moral support and to
give technical assistance. In time it may
succeed in organizing employees not now
members of labor unions, thus increasing
the membership of the affiliated unions,
THE DANGER OF organization depends
upon one's point or view. To those who
consider unions and collective bargaining
an evil, perhaps a necessary evil, any
enlargement of organized labor's pres-
tige and position is undesirable.
Those who consider trade unions as
essential and desirable institution in our
private enterprise economy see in the
merger potential public good.
For one thing, it should reduce irritat-
ing and often costly inter-union contro-
versies. Competition, for members, position

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