Labor's Lost Love

Labor's Lost Love

Labor's Lost Love

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
July 26 2005 5:40 AM

Labor's Lost Love

The Washington Post and Los Angeles Timeslead with further news of the schism within the labor movement. Two member unions officially broke with the AFL-CIO yesterday, "effectively removing 25% of the federation's members and throwing the future of unionized labor into doubt," according to a front-page story in the Wall Street Journal, which tops its world-wide newsbox with the latest on the bombing fallout in London and Egypt. The New York Times fronts its own analysis of the union feud but leads with the White House's decision to release some, but not all, of the memos and other documents Supreme Court nominee John Roberts prepared during his years as a government lawyer. USA Todayleads with the frothy real-estate market. Existing home sales rose to record highs in June, "with prices posting the biggest yearly increase since 1980," the paper reports.

As leakers had foreshadowed over the weekend, the Teamsters and Service Employees unions announced they were leaving yesterday, and taking their $20 million in dues—about a sixth of the AFL-CIO's budget—with them. Two other unions are expected to soon follow suit. Everyone says the split constitutes organized labor's worst crisis since the Great Depression, when the Congress of Industrial Organizations first broke off from the more highfalutin' American Federation of Labor.

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The breakaway unions say they are leaving because the AFL-CIO, under President John Sweeny, has lagged in organizing workers and in "making labor more relevant to the challenges of the modern workplace," says the WP. They are throwing their support in with a new group called the Change to Win Coalition. The NYT, in its informative analysis, says what's really afoot is a power struggle between Sweeny and his onetime-protégé Andrew Stern, the leader of the Service Employees' Union. Stern, a hard-charger, wanted member unions to keep more of their dues, while Sweeny refused to allow the AFL-CIO's budget to be gutted. "This is nothing but a disguised power grab," one Sweeny loyalist tells the paper.

Sweeney called the decision a "grievous insult" to union workers, the LAT reports, though union officials and Democrats—who rely on unions for money and grass-roots muscle—tried to downplay the long-term harm. USAT even suggests one possible upside: "The last labor split, 70 years ago, led to a frenetic era of competitive organizing."

The NYT's lead is confusing, but the gist is that the Bush administration is releasing papers related to two of Roberts' previous jobs, with the attorney general and White House counsel's offices, but not those relating to his work for the solicitor general. The administration wants to keep those secret because they detail "sensitive, deliberative, confidential" discussions among government lawyers about cases before the Supreme Court, administration officials tell the paper. Senators and liberal interest groups will likely mine whatever's released for clues about Roberts' thinking, because he has such a short judicial record. An accompanying piece details a flap over whether questions about Roberts' Catholic faith are out of line.

Army training is a theme of the day. The NYT off-leads the none-too-shocking news that an independent study conducted for the Palestinian Authority concluded that its security forces "are divided, weak, overstaffed, badly motivated and underarmed." And the WP travels to dismal Chad, where American Special Forces are drilling the local army. It's part of a wider United States initiative to prepare locals to fight Islamic radicals, who "are moving into Africa from Iraq, where Africans make up about a quarter of the foreign fighters." Critics worry that African armies might just as easily use their training on dissidents. The piece covers previously reported ground—Robert Kaplan recently described a similar training session in Niger for the Atlantic Monthly­—but the writer adds wit and some informed skepticism, as when she notes that the battalion the Americans are working with "is part of a regiment assigned to protect [Chad's] authoritarian and increasingly unpopular president" and is in fact commanded by his cousin.

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USAT, meanwhile, travels to Afghanistan with some American troops and finds that, despite some recent high-profile Taliban attacks, things aren't going so badly: "By Afghanistan's rock-bottom standards, this is a period of relative peace and prosperity."

The WSJ fronts a fascinating profile of Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. Bowen, a former lobbyist and Texas buddy of George W. Bush's, was expected to take it easy, but he's turned into a regular Eliot Spitzer, ferreting out graft in American reconstruction programs and even going after Halliburton. In the process, the paper says, Bowen has become "one of the most prominent and credible critics of how the administration has handled the occupation of Iraq."

The LAT fronts news that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., was named yesterday to head a committee that will brainstorm electoral strategies for the centrist Democratic Leadership Committee. The move cements the former first lady's recent move from left to right, the paper says, ahead of an expected presidential bid. Clinton called for a "cease-fire" among party factions.

The WP fronts an analysis of the long-awaited energy bill that Congress now seems likely to pass. It won't do much to ease America's dependency on foreign oil, the paper says, because the automobile industry quashed a measure to require greater fuel-efficiency in cars and trucks.

For sale: One used hoodie ... The LAT reports that soon, items seized from the Montana cabin occupied by convicted murderer and noted pygmy enthusiast Theodore Kaczynski will be auctioned off to the public, as a result of a federal court decision holding that the items should be sold off to help pay the $15 million in fines the Unabomber owes his victims. There is a growing market for such "murderabilia," the LAT says, and some believe that Kaczynski's journals could fetch $1,000 apiece. Other items on the block include his shoes, dishes, typewriter, and his copy of Strunk & White's Elements of Style.