By now it seems clear that the United States has entered a new period of contradictory trends that presents a profound challenge to organized labor. First there is the deepening world recession that is bringing down some of American capitalism’s most high profile institutions from Wall Street to Detroit. At the same time, of course, it is wiping out millions of jobs, 4.4 million from December 2007 to February 2009. Slightly less dramatic is the changing climate of social and political opinion in the US that has been taking shape for a number of years and made the landmark victory of Barack Obama possible. This change is not simply that the dark clouds of neoconservatism have lifted. Nor is it that we have a Democratic administration and Congress, as these predictably disappoint. At root is a definite mood shift away from faith in markets and business leaders that just might help unions recruit and open the door to bolder action.
But are the unions fit to fight? Basically, many union leaders have had two strategies for survival and increased fitness: mergers and new organizing.