AFL-CIO Merger

The People
December 23, 1995
Vol. 105 No. 17

40 YEARS AFTER -- MERGER 'ABOLISHED' AFL'S 'RADICAL' PAST

Elsewhere in this issue will be found an article on the Socialist Trade and Labor Alliance, which was established 100 years ago in December 1895. The ST&LA was the first organization of labor unions in the United States to base itself squarely on the principle of the class struggle. However, it was not the first or the only organization of unions to acknowledge the class struggle as a fact -- a fact as palpable and real as the decreasing wages, increasing exploitation, spreading unemployment, rising profits and concentration of wealth that still rank among the most obvious and concrete signs of its existence.

As it happens, this month also marks the 40th anniversary of the 1955 merger of the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations into what is now known as the AFL- CIO. The CIO was established during the Great Depression of the 1930s, but the AFL dates back to the 1880s.

Most Americans, capitalists and workers, don't know it, but the original statement of principles in the AFL constitution started off with the words:

"Whereas, a struggle is going on in all the nations of the civilized world between the oppressors and the oppressed of all countries, a struggle between the capitalist and the laborer, which grows in intensity from year to year, and will work disastrous results to the toiling millions if they are not combined for mutual protection and benefit...."

This statement, which continued as part of the AFL's constitution until the AFL-CIO merger was finalized in December 1955, was the AFL's formal acceptance of the reality of the class struggle. It was written at a time when the American workers took it for granted that there was a class struggle -- and before the time when capitalism was able to use the lies of its press, pulpit, radio, TV, etc., to "abolish" the class struggle by declaring that it does not exist.

The class struggle statement from the AFL's original constitution was replaced in the AFL-CIO constitution with the following gesture to capitalism's success in virtually purging all mention of the class struggle from the American scene:

"At the collective-bargaining table, in the community, in the exercise of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, we shall responsibly serve the interests of all the American people."

"All the American people" include the capitalists, the exploiters of the workers. It follows from this that the AFL-CIO organization openly dedicated itself to serving the capitalists, the exploiters of the workers who are corralled in the AFL-CIO unions. The premise is that this can be done while serving the interests of the workers, but this premise is challenged by the AFL's own previous view (formerly held for 74 years) that there is a struggle between the capitalist class and the working class, which grows in intensity from year to year.

Which is correct: the original AFL admission that there is a class struggle or the latterday AFL-CIO claim that the interests of the two classes can be reconciled "at the collective- bargaining table"?

The capitalist answer is that the class struggle is a "Marxist fiction," despite the facts briefly summarized at the beginning of this article. The socialist answer is that the class struggle is as much a part of life today as it was when the AFL at least paid lip service to it, and that capitalism's attempt (joined in by the labor fakers) to abolish the class struggle through the power of lies is itself a manifestation of that struggle. The capitalists and the labor fakers seek to perpetuate the class struggle by pretending it doesn't exist. Socialists seek to abolish the class struggle by calling attention to it, by exposing its meaning, by pointing to its consequences and by organizing the workers, as a class, for the construction of the classless society of socialism.