Newspapers are dying. Musicians and writers can’t get paid. Maybe it’s time for creatives to really organize…
Source: Gordon Lafer, New Labor Forum, Vol. 22 no. 1, Winter 2013
…So what can the election tell us about the voters, the parties, and the way forward for labor?…Why can’t the Democrats be the party we wish they were? The simple answer is that they are too dependent on big money….I do not believe anyone in the labor movement has a master plan for victory, and this is not one.
But the combination of polls, votes, and experience points to several steps unions can take to help move politics forward in 2013 and beyond.
Focus on the States
Put Workplace Organizing at the Center of Our Political Operation
Recruit Members to Serve as Public Ambassadors
Campaign against the Corporate Lobbies
Run Proactive Ballot Initiatives
The past two years have seen sparks of surprising vitality—from the mass uprising in Wisconsin, to the Chicago teachers’ walkout, to the strike wave now roiling Walmart. But the big picture is bleak: our fastest-growing industries are virtually union-free. Strikes by workers are losing ground to lockouts. Concessionary contracts are rampant. The government’s New Deal–era promise to protect the right to organize has become a cruel joke. In politics, as at the bargaining table, unions are mostly playing defense.
When labor declines, our economy and our politics tilt ever further toward the rich. The Democratic Party becomes even less accountable to the working class. Progressive coalitions are stripped of crucial infrastructure and grassroots firepower. Corporate power goes unchecked. Productivity gains flow to the 1 percent. And Americans become ever more subject to the whims of managers: coerced to donate to a boss’s favorite candidate, forced to work while sick, or fired for defending an “ethnic” haircut on Facebook.
How can labor turn this dire situation around?
Forum participants include:
Kate Bronfenbrenner: ”Unions: Put Organizing First“
Richard D. Kahlenberg and Moshe Z. Marvit: ”Make Organizing a Civil Right“
Suresh Naidu and Dorian T. Warren: ”What Labor Can Learn From the Obama Campaign“
Larry Cohen: ”Build a Democracy Movement“
Bhairavi Desai: ”Become a Movement of All Workers“
Maria Elena Durazo: ”Time for Labor to Mobilize Immigrants“
Karen GJ Lewis: ”Fight for the Whole Society“
…In response to persistent demands from employers for lower labor costs, some of the nation’s most prominent unions—instead of protesting or striking—have agreed to reduce the pay of newly hired workers as long as the wages of existing employees go untouched. And the new hires themselves have abstained from open protest, instead preferring the lower tier to no work at all, or to work that pays even less than a union-negotiated lower tier. …
For too long organized labor has failed to ask the Dems, ‘Which side are you on?’…Democratic leaders who think their party can survive without labor are grossly mistaken. Who will turn out the base—MoveOn.org?…The fact is, the success of the American labor movement has always depended upon a welcoming policy environment facilitated by an allied political party. While many forces are contributing to labor’s decline, we can no longer ignore a central one: The once-reliable Democratic Party has abandoned the cause. However, the party remains heavily dependent on labor for financial and organizational infrastructure….
Nonunion workers’ groups are gathering strength across the country. But will they ever make the kind of impact that traditional labor once did? … His fellow demonstrators—a few co-workers and a couple of dozen staffers and activists from the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC)—picked up the chant, Occupy-style.…. The ROC is a labor group. But it’s not a union. It represents a new face of the U.S. labor movement—an often-ignored, little-understood array of groups organizing workers without the union label. … Why are alt-labor groups like the ROC proliferating? To begin with, unions are in crisis. Over the past 20 years, private-sector unionization has plummeted to just 7 percent. … There’s another reason for the rise of alt-labor: For an increasing number of U.S. workers, unions are not even an option. Labor law denies union rights to increasingly significant sectors of the workforce, including so-called independent contractors and domestic workers, whose numbers are expected to double as baby boomers enter elder care. …The question, as alt-workers’ groups further expand their efforts outside of labor-friendly cities like New York, is how much they can accomplish for American workers. If unions continue to decline, can these groups ever hope to accomplish what old labor once did—substantially improving working conditions on a mass scale and helping to build a new middle class? …
After spontaneous strike to protest wage issues, Latino textile workers’ partnership with community organization and union leads to victory
Source: Arise Chicage, Talking Union blog, Posted on February 2, 2013
Source: Eric Liu, Time, January 29, 2013
…First, the fact is that when unions are stronger the economy as a whole does better. Unions restore demand to an economy by raising wages for their members and putting more purchasing power to work, enabling more hiring. On the flip side, when labor is weak and capital unconstrained, corporations hoard, hiring slows, and inequality deepens. Thus we have today both record highs in corporate profits and record lows in wages.
Second, unions lift wages for non-union members too by creating a higher prevailing wage. Even if you aren’t a member your pay is influenced by the strength or weakness of organized labor. The presence of unions sets off a wage race to the top. Their absence sets off a race to the bottom.
Unfortunately, the relegation of organized labor to tiny minority status and the fact that the public sector is the last remaining stronghold for unions have led many Americans to see them as special interests seeking special privileges, often on the taxpayer’s dime. This thinking is as upside-down as our economy.
This country has gotten to today’s level of inequality because, ironically, those who work for a living think like atomized individuals while those who hire for a living organize collectively to rig policy in their favor. Today’s 97-year low is the result of decades of efforts to squeeze unions and disperse their power….
Small but highly publicized strikes by Walmart retail and warehouse workers last fall set the labor movement abuzz and gained new respect for organizing methods once regarded skeptically. … [R]etail workers who staff the stores, warehouse workers who move Walmart’s goods, and even guest workers who peel crawfish for a supplier are ignoring the path laid out by U.S. labor law, in which workers sign a petition asking to vote on a union. Instead, they’re exercising their rights to redress grievances together, whether a majority can be rallied to support the effort or not. One-day strikes in dozens of stores last October and November protested illegal retaliation against those who had spoken up at their workplaces and joined the Organization United for Respect at Walmart. Several had been fired and many experienced threats and cuts in hours for their participation. “We have a way to respond to illegal actions,” Schlademan said: “the power of the strike.” …
…State-level policy has recently become increasingly important to the fate of unions. States such as Indiana and Michigan passed “right-to-work” laws in 2012 that undermine the strength of unions by requiring them to provide services for which they are not compensated, while Wisconsin passed a law in 2011 that repealed collective bargaining rights for most of the state’s public-sector workers. These policy choices, as well as similar ones made in the past, can significantly impact unionization rates, and they help explain the wide variation in unionization among states. Using the Bureau of Labor Statistics data released today, along with data from an online database managed by economists Barry T. Hirsch and David A. Macpherson, we can see how trends in unionization have differed across states in recent years….
Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its annual summary of unionization in the U.S. It reports that in 2012, the union-membership rate of wage and salary workers was 11.3 percent, compared with 11.8 percent in 2011. The trend has been downward for some time: Fifty years ago, the figure was almost 30 percent.
It’s conventional wisdom that the post-industrial workforce doesn’t want to be unionized. But survey data show that workers’ desire to join unions has been growing since the 1980s, and a majority of nonunion workers would now vote for union representation if given the opportunity. So if workers want unions, why is unionization falling?
Commentators have also blamed the decline on everything from globalization to technological advances to the hollowing-out of American manufacturing. But those factors are only part of the story.
Canada’s experience offers another answer. Canada has gone through many of the same economic and social changes as the U.S. since the middle of the 20th century, yet it hasn’t seen the same precipitous decline in unionization. The unionization rate in the U.S. and Canada followed fairly similar paths from 1920 to the mid-1960s, at which point they began to diverge drastically.
Differences in labor law and public policy are at the root of this disparity. …