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The AFL-CIO and the Future

 

Samuel Gompers, the father of the modern American labor movement and the first president of the AFL, was asked on many
occasions, "What do unions really want?"
 
In an eloquent speech, Gompers summed up the philosophy and hopes that guide the union movement today just as they did at
its founding.
 
As Gompers put it, "We want more school houses and less jails; more books and less arsenals; more learning and less vice;
more constant work and less crime; more leisure and less greed; more justice and less revenge; in fact, more of the
opportunities to cultivate our better natures . . . ."
 
The fundamental reason for the very existence of unions is in fact to help workers achieve a better life. That purpose will remain
valid as long as there are unachieved goals on the horizon, as long as a single worker remains subject to unfair treatment.
 
The AFL-CIO is committed just as firmly to the belief that union members can gain nothing of value at the expense of their
fellow citizens, that "what is good for America is good for labor."
 
The unachieved goals of labor and the nation are many-the complete eradication of the poverty that grips millions of people, a
job at fair wages and a decent place to live for every American, fulfillment of democracy's promise of equal rights and equal
opportunity for men and women and for persons of every race and creed, full education for every youngster with no ceiling
except individual ability, adequate security against the hazards of Unless and old age, and above all a world where peace and
freedom prevail.
 
These are just the high priority objectives, the immediate "more" that labor is seeking. The AFL-CIO will pursue them with the
same determination, the same dedication to democratic principles that in the past have produced such gains as the basic social
security program, public education, the federal minimum wage, the elimination of child labor, and the highest living standards in
the world for the American worker.
 
Critics and enemies of organized labor have predicted its demise time and again over the past century, frequently with a sneer
that collective bargaining was "obsolete" or had "outlived its usefulness." These critics were proved wrong, and labor and the
bargaining process not only survived but grew more vigorous.
 
Under the aegis of its Committee on the Evolution of Work, the AFL-CIO is examining organized labor's role in a rapidly
changing world of work and has adopted a series of recommendations aimed at continuing the process of "renewal and
regeneration" that enables unions "to remain the authentic voice of workers."
 
Against the background of its traditional principles, the AFL-CIO reviewed "the numerous and complex factors which have
created the current situation facing workers and their unions," pointing out that "the United States-indeed, every industrialized
nation-is undergoing a scientific, technological, economic revolution every bit as significant as the industrial revolution of the
19th Century."
 
Stressing that "unions must come to grips with the current and changed realities workers face," the AFL-CIO adopted a
number of new programs, including innovative organizing strategies, a membership benefits program, and a grassroots campaign
to increase participation of local members.
 
By recognizing the realities of the future of work and anticipating the needs of tomorrow's workers, the labor movement will
remain a vital force for progress and will thrive amidst such changing conditions.
 
Today, as the AFL-CIO moves forward into its second hundred years, organized labor faces new challenges in an increasingly
complex industrial society. The Federation will meet these challenges with confidence in its ability to adjust to change, to
respond to the needs and opportunities of the times, and to apply the pragmatic lessons of its history.

 
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