Labor Watch

From Meany to No Middle Class: The Marxist Decline at the AFL-CIO


The AFL-CIO, America’s largest federation of labor unions, illustrated the extent of its hard-left turn earlier this week when its official account Tweeted a video by the openly pro-Marxist media production shop Means of Production urging followers to “seize the means of production.”

This is yet another illustration of how much the AFL-CIO has changed in the 24 years since Lane Kirkland stepped down as the federation’s president in 1995. Kirkland, as CRC noted recently, was a staunch anti-Communist; an aide to then-U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) told the Washington Post in 1983 that Kirkland’s AFL-CIO “in general takes foreign policy positions to the right of Ronald Reagan.” American labor unions provided financial support to a number of anti-Communist free trade unions in the Soviet bloc, the most prominent of which was Poland’s Solidarity, a recipient of at least $6 million in AFL-CIO aid.

But the fall of the Iron Curtain—combined with a shift in union membership from workers in the private economy to government officials—saw this honorable tradition of liberal anti-Communism disappear almost overnight. John Sweeney, an opponent of the 1991 Persian Gulf War who unseated Kirkland’s chosen successor Tom Donohue, reportedly joined the Democratic Socialists of America before taking over the AFL-CIO to show his faithfulness to the far-left cause; his lieutenant-turned-successor Richard Trumka has continued and expanded the union federation’s alliance with the far-Left.

So that is how the AFL-CIO got into position to endorse outright Marxist sloganeering. But there’s more; the film the AFL-CIO shared is a mini-lecture by a “Marxist roofer” explaining that the middle class does not exist. Laying aside the patent ridiculousness of the assertion, it is odd that labor unions would support such an assertion, given that much of labor unions’ self-identity and public political messaging comes from their overstated role in creating the modern middle class as well making themselves its defenders. Indeed, unions’ successful campaign to secure forced dues rules in Missouri was titled “Preserve Middle Class Missouri.”

A rhetorical shift from midcentury middle-class liberalism to means-of-production Marxism is a major step for American labor unions. Whether their members are prepared to follow is an open question.

Michael Watson

Michael is Research Director for Capital Research Center and serves as the managing editor for InfluenceWatch. A graduate of the College of William and Mary, he previously worked for a…
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