Top national labor leaders criticized the AFL-CIO today, saying consolidation of its 58 member unions and a greater emphasis on organizing is needed for the labor movement to survive.

Claiming that middle-class America is under siege from Bush administration policies and multi-national corporations, union leaders said the labor movement also needs to reach out to workers overseas workers.

"If we are not able to develop relationships with workers in other parts of the world, we (can't defeat) multinational corporations," said Gerald Hudson, executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union.

As for nationwide consolidation, Hudson pointed out that the construction and transportation sectors are each represented by 15 different unions, while public employees and health care workers belong to 13 and six different unions, respectively.

Hudson joined John Wilhelm, president of the hospitality industry unit for Unite HERE, and Harold Schaitberger, general president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, for a panel discussion before nearly 150 local labor activists at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels downtown.

The event was sponsored by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, the regional branch of the AFL-CIO.

Wilhelm called for the national AFL-CIO staff to be cut by 50 percent and for 75 percent of the organization's funding to be earmarked for organizing non-unionized shops and for boosting its political clout. He also wants all labor leaders to support labor-friendly politicians, regardless of their party affiliation.

"The AFL-CIO should not be an appendage of the Democratic Party," said Wilhelm.

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