I suggested early last year that the 2008 National Convention could be a “watershed” in the history of the APWU. It remains, probably, too early to tell whether that projection was realized in the events of August 2008. However, the last National Convention is certainly notable for some things we did and for some things we did not.
Those things we did not are now drawn into sharper focus as the economy erodes and the financial status of the APWU strains. We heard for several years prior to this Convention, from the administration, that the Union’s financial status was a serious concern. We were told, years prior, because of the eroding ranks of membership the Union needed to find ways to reduce its expenditures. We needed to “capture” savings because we could not continue to operate in the same way we had for most of our prior history. Simply put, a Union of 220,000 members cannot afford to operate as if it had the revenue base of 300,000 members. Unfortunately, the message from our administration about our finances was again and again presented as if from a split personality. We repeatedly were being given two, conflicting presentations. On the one hand, we were told the Union must reduce expenditures to the tune of five million dollars annually. On the other hand, we were told in the very next breath the Union’s financial strength was just fine. The frustration with this mixed message in the 2006 Convention resulted in Resolution 523. The resolution called for a study by a national committee to determine what our real situation was, how we ought to change in order to (at least) be prepared for what seemed to be an inevitable continuing decline in membership and, thereby, revenue, and to make a report to the 2008 Convention. Well the Committee was formed, met and issued a report.
I and others castigated the Resolution 523 report as a meaningless failure of the committee to satisfy its mandate. And, it seemed, the 2008 Convention agreed. Where we hoped to see specific recommendations about how the Union would change – perhaps restructure itself – to be ready for impending financial decline, we got nothing. The committee report, apparently dictated by the administration, was a deferral to the President and the Executive Board. It recommended only that the Union allow the President and the Executive Board to make structural changes to the organization purely at their discretion. Should a national officer leave office mid-term, it would be the President’s discretion whether we continue to need that office. Should the Executive Board believe (for any reason) one of the field offices – or all of the field offices – could be closed, it would be the Board’s discretion alone to so decide. No specific model for restructuring of this organization was developed. No specific plan of action was put forth that would guide our budgetary determinations in light of dwindling income. A well deserved dues increase proposal found no support in the administration, in spite of declining revenue and in spite of failure to reduce anything about our structure – again the self-contradictory message. The approach of this administration to our financial health has been very similar to the Republican Congress approach to America’s financial health – cut, cut, cut expenses, but do nothing to increase revenue.
To the credit of the delegates to the Convention, they once again took charge of the Convention. And their success, once again, was a success in stymying the administration’s plans – the President would not be allowed sole discretion whether or not to fill a vacant officer position; and any decision to close or move a field office would require Convention action.
We were still left, because of the abject failure of Resolution 523 to realize its potential, with no plan that would lead us through the rocky economic events that have since the Convention befallen us. We are now, in large part because of the collapse of the American economy (more particularly the Wall Street Casino), faced with real economic difficulties. Yet, even now, this Union is run as if Captain Queeg were at the helm with conflicting pronouncements about our well being emanating from 1300 ‘L’ Street one behind another.
We cannot sustain if we cannot communicate openly and honestly about who we are and how well we are. It is also certain that, in order for us to continue to be the vibrant Union we have been for more than three decades, we must come to terms with the very real need to change. We need structural change. And we need the determinations about structural change to come from the body as a whole. The administration of this Union has demonstrated clearly that it is either not willing or not capable of leading the way to positive structural changes. It will only be the rank-and-file membership who will develop plans for this Union to remain true to its labor heritage, its commitment to aggressive representation of the members and fundamental democratic principles. We must do this; we will do this. It is time now to prepare for the 2010 National Convention.