Unions are schools of workers’ struggle — that’s why socialists talk so much about them. But they’re also contradictory institutions that often become complacent and bureaucratic. That’s why the rank-and-file strategy is so important.
Workers must build durable collective identities on their own behalf, and unions must institutionalize that social solidarity.
Source: Patrick Dixon, Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas, Vol. 16 no. 2, May 2019
From the abstract:
The results of the 2016 election presented a crisis for American progressives that has given birth to a new genre of popular nonfiction literature focused on resistance to the Trump administration. These primers seldom consider labor to be an important element of resistance, and while they include many policy prescriptions, these are often lacking in imagination and ambition. This genre is nonetheless an instructive source, offering a historical snapshot that reveals the fissures and dilemmas facing the American Left in the early days of the Trump presidency.
A massive network of women activists across the country — that’s the vision of the new activist org Supermajority and its leadership, which is a dream team of organizers. Former Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, Black Lives Matter Global Network co-founder Alicia Garza, and National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) director Ai-Jen Poo are just three of the women helming the group named for the fact that women are a majority of the country’s electorate.
“Women are marching, running for office, donating to, and advocating for causes and campaigns, and voting in record numbers. We can be the most powerful force in America — if we do the work together,” the group, which launched April 29, says on its website. “We’re building a Supermajority of women [and everyone who shares our values!] who are organizing for gender equity.”
The leadership behind the group is a who’s who of powerful women. Aside from Poo, Garza, and Richards, there’s Deirdre Schifeling of Planned Parenthood’s Action Fund; Jess Morales Rocketto of the NDWA, Care in Action, and Families Belong Together; and NYU professor Katherine Grainger of Civitas Public Affairs Group.
A generation of young workers is rebuilding a battered union movement.
Blue-collar jobs are disappearing. But a powerful new wave of organized labor is taking its place. ….
…. At the University of Arkansas, where I work and serve as president of AFSCME Local 965, union membership has about doubled in recent years. Although the local was started by the university’s maintenance crew in the 1960s, nearly every new member has been a professor or professional employee. Their concerns: campus safety, a living wage for all employees, collective bargaining rights, and gaining more influence over campus policies. ….
…. One reason for the shift is the evolution of the American economy. Manufacturing jobs have disappeared as service jobs have increased. That means fewer opportunities for blue-collar workers to join unions if they wanted to. (And employers don’t want them to.)
The professional class is by no means offsetting the country’s net loss of union members, but how the newbies are behaving shows they understand exactly how collective action is supposed to work: They’re leaving their manners at home and making demands. It was kindly teachers in rural West Virginia who flexed their muscle in a strike that put the country on notice—kind of like the textile workers in 1912, but without smashing any windows. ….
When it comes to workplace organizing, there’s no such thing as a “privileged” worker. You’re either with your coworkers or you’re against them. …..
….. Although the argument — unions are good, but they’re not for us, and, somehow, us unionizing undermines unions — is unusually explicit, it’s not an unheard-of objection in white-collar organizing drives. During such campaigns, this concern is sometimes voiced by well-meaning people — those earnestly raising it do so because they believe the conditions of life at the bottom of society are unacceptable. But unions, so the thinking goes in this country where caricatures of the working class run rampant, are for those at the lowest rungs of the socioeconomic ladder — they’re for factory workers; for manual laborers; maybe they’re for low-wage service workers. But teachers, engineers, graduate students, journalists? Those are middle-class jobs. Surely, such workers should be grateful not to be down there, in the muck of poverty. In fact, it’d be greedy to want more than they have. Who are they to claim the mantle of working class? Unfortunately, this perspective has one, and only one, practical effect: keeping people from throwing their cards in with the working class, from demanding better lives and a seat at the table. …..
As the labor movement has begun to show signs of a revitalization, we excavate a volume, long consigned to obscurity, from an earlier era. As Jane McAlevey observes, even though almost a century has passed since its initial publication, Steuben’s book remains astonishingly relevant today — which speaks both to the enduring facts of employment relations in capitalism, as well as to the efficacy of Steuben’s strategic perspective.
The labor movement has to be central to winning a Green New Deal and reversing climate change. Recent labor victories show how we can do just that, from the ground up, and quickly.
What the New Deal Can Teach Us About a Green New Deal
Source: Richard Walker, Jacobin, March 26, 2019
The original New Deal was a bold, visionary effort that transformed the economic and political life of the country. The Green New Deal could do even more.
The difference between a truly democratic union and one that follows a servicing model is stark when it comes to grievance handling. In a strong democratic union there may not even be many grievances; members organize to convince supervisors to stop violating the contract without having to use the formal procedure…..