Contemporary Unionism in the United States

By Clyde E. Dankert | Go to book overview

4
Structure of the American Federation of Labor

IN ANY organization the matter of structure is of much less importance than function. In other words, the physical make-up of an organization is not nearly as significant as its activities. This does not mean that structure is of little account and can be disregarded, for the effectiveness with which an organization can carry out its various activities is closely associated with, and to no small extent dependent upon, the type of structure it possesses.

In studying the A.F. of L., therefore, it is desirable to consider its structural characteristics. At the same time attention will be given to the work of the minor units or parts of the structure. The work of the major units (the "head office" of the organization and the nationals and internationals and their locals) will be taken up in succeeding chapters.


The General Structure of the A.F. of L.

The American Federation of Labor is a union organization composed of a variety of constituent parts having various degrees of independence. Although the amount of independence, or autonomy, possessed by some of the parts is small, the amount possessed by the central, vital segments in the structure--the nationals and internationals--is very large. In fact they are almost completely independent. Herein consists the appropriateness of the organization's name. The American Federation of Labor is a federation. It is a group of unions banded together for the purpose of achieving certain purposes, but it is a group in which the chief members retain virtually complete control over their own affairs.

This essential characteristic of the A.F. of L. is often emphasized within the organization, particularly when suggestions are made that the Federation be given authority to deal with certain undesirable practices engaged in by the nationals and internationals. The A.F. of L., a convention committee of the organization has stated, "is a federation of self-governing national and international unions who have been guaranteed their right to self-government, which includes their election and selection of officers and control over their conduct." Somewhat along the same line a keen student of American trade unionism has observed that "As a league of sovereign unions, the Federation

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