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  • Writer's pictureKaren Young

Progressive Unionism 2.0: Vermont AFL-CIO United

Updated: Mar 9

Welcome to Team Tuesday!


Today we have the story from Jacobin of how an intrepid band of union reformers transformed the Vermont State Labor Council. 


There’s been some great victories of militant rank-and-file union members taking national leadership away from crusty old, corrupt or just complacent placeholders in recent years.  The UAW victory last year can be traced directly to new leadership.  These campaigns were run by local union members against the leadership of their own unions. 


The battle for the Vermont State Labor Council, a group of leaders from local unions around the state, affiliated with the national AFL-CIO, was groundbreaking in a different way, and could ultimately be even more far-reaching.

These councils, which also exist on the city level and are also known as Central Labor Councils (CLCs), serve as venues for different unions to act in concert. The council might throw its weight behind a candidate or legislative priority, a strike, or a community campaign. They can have real power in various situations.


In most AFL-CIO leadership (including these local/state councils), officers and executive board members are chosen by convention or council delegates, who are mostly not rank-and-file working union members. The rank and file has little or no say about who runs AFL-CIO bodies. 


In Vermont, however, because the state is small, the Council members WERE rank-and-file workers. Since 2017, activists have worked to reform the Council.  Their group is called Vermont AFL-CIO United. 


In 2023, they made Katie Maurice, a 31-year-old AFSCME member, the youngest state AFL-CIO president in the country — and the only one who belongs to the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).  Woot!


You Love To See It


David Van Deusen, a leader of the group, has written a book about the campaign, Insurgent Labor: The Vermont AFL-CIO 2017-2023. 


They first won a leadership election in 2019, taking all the top officer jobs, and forming a majority on the executive board.  They’ve since engaged in a wide range of strategic activities, building alliances and growing numbers and strength for the unions represented in the Council.


The reformers’ goal was to revitalize a moribund organization through membership education, mobilization, and direct action. They favored greater internal democracy and transparency, independent political action, and more labor support for social and environmental justice.


Some of their achievements:


  • Opening Council meetings to all union members, bringing the largest turnouts ever

  • Working with building trades unions to get “prevailing wage” laws across Vermont

  • First labor federation to join the six-state Renew New England Alliance for green union jobs

  • Helped rank-and-filers in non-AFL-CIO unions during their fight against a public employee pension cut with bipartisan support

  • Supported immigrant farmworkers

  • Strengthened ties with the Vermont Progressive Party


Well, Not This Part


It goes without saying that the national AFL-CIO wasn’t amused by ANY of this.  They have fought the reformers every step of the way, even cutting off the state group’s funding at one point.  I applaud the state groups looking for forgiveness, not permission, to make needed changes. It seems likely they are able to keep growing without the national’s help.


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