Competition for Members Undermines Unions' Strength

By Steering Committee Member Tim Russ  

At the recent NEA Representative Assembly, delegates from across the country were asked to weigh in on a dispute between two unions in Alabama , the state affiliates of the NEA and AFT.  Similar disputes between unions about which organization is best equipped to represent workers unfortunately are as old as the labor movement itself.

However, in a time of unprecedented attacks on our core industry, public education, AFT and NEA must work to eliminate this impulse. Competition at the local level poisons the potential for cooperation and undermines genuine opportunities for solidarity and mutual benefit. It undermines the very core purpose of any union, improving the lives of its members and in turn the society as a whole.

The specifics of the case brought to the floor of the 2010 NEA RA are to some extent murky, but they do illuminate how competition between affiliates brings out the pettiness and irrelevance that weakens our movement for better public education. Two locals in Alabama are competing over who best would represent workers in a local area, one an affiliate of NEA, the other of AFT. According to the rationale printed in RA Today (NEA publication during the RA) the AFT affiliate attempted to raid members of the NEA affiliate by offering substantially lower dues. According to the statements of speakers in favor of the New Business Item, the reduced dues were “one dollar.” Over what duration, that was not made clear. The new business item that passed directed NEA to communicate to AFT that its affiliates should cease and desist with all actions that violate the jurisdictional agreement. What this new business item will accomplish is yet to be seen.

In the end the success or failure of efforts to build stronger unions for members hinge on ability of our affiliates to work together, not to compete for members. A national merger of the NEA and AFT  is one good way to communicate to all affiliates that cooperation is the future not competition.

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