U.S. labor Unions: long history

Organized labor has long been a force to be reckoned with in Massachusetts. The biggest public construction projects of recent years, such as the Central Artery Project, have given preferences to union labor. On Beacon Hill, unions helped defeat a 2003 proposal by Governor Mitt Romney to scale back the state's generous unemployment insurance benefits.

And in the 2004 state election, unions helped Democrats expand their legislative majorities in the face of a highly visible and well-financed campaign by Romney to elect more Republicans.

But now, opponents are hoping this summer's split between the AFL-CIO and three major unions will weaken organized labor's influence on the state's economic and political affairs, Boston Globe says.

For example, Associated Builders and Contractors, which represents nonunion construction firms, said the split could prove a distraction for unions and help the builder's group end the union preferences in public construction.

"It's still an uphill battle," said Nathan Little, the construction group's public affairs director. "But any time they have to spend organizing themselves is less time they have to spend at the State House."

Today, in Boston and across the state, Massachusetts unions will mark Labor Day with the national labor movement as fractured as it has been in decades. This summer, the Service Employees International Union, Teamsters, and United Food and Commercial Workers, representing a total of 4.6 million members, broke from the AFL-CIO over the direction of the 50-year-old umbrella organization.

Under AFL-CIO president John Sweeney, organized labor has focused on politics, pouring money and manpower into supporting union-friendly candidates, albeit with mixed success.

In contrast, the breakaway unions, which formed a coalition dubbed Change to Win, wanted less money and effort spent on politics, and more on signing up new members.

A fourth union, Unite Here, which represents about 450,000 textile, hotel, and restaurant workers, is considering leaving the AFL-CIO.

Regardless of differences at the national level, state and local union officials say they will maintain the connections and unity of purpose that have made them a force in Massachusetts. Whether AFL-CIO or Change to Win, union leaders insisted they'll find ways to work together. They already have.

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