Labor Needs a Bold Vision to Inspire Workers in the New Economy

Source: Jonathan Rosenblum, New Labor Forum, Vol. 25 no. 3, September 2016
(subscription required)

….Far more vital to the movement’s survival is the existential question of vision and purpose. We should seek answers not from the institutional vantage point of academia or union headquarters, but from the street-level perspectives of the 89 percent of U.S. workers who do not belong to unions—the precariously employed Uber driver, the permatemp Nissan auto worker, the undocumented sheet rocker, the minimum wage fast-food worker, the charter schoolteacher on the permanent tenterhooks of one-year contracts, and the part-time, food stamp–dependent Walmart associate.

The important question is this: What sort of forward-looking vision, organizational form, and array of strategies will inspire these millions to unite in a movement for a just economy? ….

….Today’s unforgiving reality has only an indirect relationship to the structure of unions. Rather, it is the product of two major influences: first, an unceasing corporate drive to maximize profit by breaking worker power and by privatizing and monetizing everything, both here and around the world; and second, the U.S. union movement’s limited scope—a collective bargaining model focusing on worksite-by-worksite organizing and standards fights, along with political engagement that largely contents itself with marginal change.

The corporate vision—profits for them, poverty and precarity for the rest of us—is eminently clear. What has been lacking and is urgently needed from U.S. unions is a countervailing powerful vision, one that imagines an economy in which workers have a powerful voice, and the needs of people and community come before profits…..