Contemporary Unionism in the United States

By Clyde E. Dankert | Go to book overview

5
Government of the American Federation of labor

LIKE MOST large, voluntary organizations1 the American Federation of Labor has two principal agencies of government. First, there is the annual convention which, under the constitution, is the supreme body of control. The convention has been called "The Parliament of Labor" and it is a parliament. However, with the C.I.O. in existence, it is not the only institution that can lay claim to that title. The convention of the Federation acts under a written constitution, but the convention has the power to change the constitution if it so desires; and numerous changes have been made.2

The second agency of government is the executive council composed of a president, a secretary-treasurer, and thirteen "ordinary" members (called vice-presidents previous to the 1947 convention). Of these council members only the first two are on a salaried, full-time basis. They are in charge of the day-to-day activities of the organization and are assisted by a permanent staff. De jure the executive council is definitely subordinate to the convention. De facto, however, it exercises no small amount of control over the convention, probably more than the president and his cabinet in this country exercise over Congress, and also more than the cabinet in Great Britain exercises over Parliament.

To carry on its general work of government, which covers a wide range of tasks, the Federation needs revenue. To obtain this revenue regularly and in adequate amounts, it possesses certain powers of taxation, although the amount of revenue it raises is not large.

In the preceding paragraphs the three topics to be discussed in the present chapter have been indicated. They are: the A.F. of L. convention, the A.F. of L. executive council, and A.F. of L. finances.

____________________
1
Although President Green, with verbal nicety, has said that the A.F. of L. is a federation and not an organization (the same statement was also made by Samuel Gompers), the author will nevertheless use the latter term, giving it its ordinary, broad meaning.
2
The constitution can be altered with much greater ease than the constitution of the United States since all that is necessary is a two-thirds supporting vote at any regular convention. There is no need to obtain separate approval from three-quarters of the "states," as represented by the nationals and internationals.

-76-

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