Organizing in a Brave New World

Source: Stephen Lerner, Saqib Bhatti, New Labor Forum, Vol. 25 no. 3, September 2016
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Austerity, growing inequality, and the economic and political domination of billionaires, bankers, hedge funds, and giant corporations make the current moment ripe for birthing a movement that can radically transform the country and the world. This is a time not only of great peril but also of extraordinary opportunity and—yes—reasons for hope. The last four decades have been characterized by unrelenting attacks on the working class, the weakening of unions, and the financialization of capitalism. The financial crisis of 2007-2009, the burgeoning wealth gap, and the flood of money from corporations and the rich drowning our democracy have exposed the nation’s political, moral, and economic decay, creating conditions that beg for an alternative to a system that increasingly only works for the super-rich.

In this environment, anything that unions can do alone, with dwindling power, will be insufficient. The challenge for labor, at a moment of historic weakness, is to figure out how unions can support and be involved in movements and campaigns that expand, rather than narrow, the scope and scale of what we are organizing and bargaining for. It may seem counterintuitive, but it is thinking bigger and broadening our vision, goals, and demands—even at a moment of weakness—that offers a path to resurgent unions and a more equal and just country and world.

Unions need to understand and educate the public about what is going on in the economy if labor and other social movements are to seize this opportunity and figure out how to turn frailty into strength. They need to demystify the complexity of the how the economy works, so that working-class people and social movements can respond in kind…..

Step 1: Understand What Is Going on in the Economy
…..To build a broad social movement that seeks to change fundamental aspects of our political economy, we need to recognize how the financial elite have created a vicious cycle that systematically transfers wealth from workers’ pockets to their own in four important ways:
Creating and profiting from personal debt ….
Building and profiting from public sector debt ….
Defunding, then privatizing ….
Establishing a corporate-owned revolving-door government ….

Step 2: Learn from Labor’s Past ….

Step 3: Build a Movement for Transformational Change ….