I have a new piece posted in Logos concerning the necessity for a ‘labor reformation,’ to borrow a term from my late friend Jerry Tucker.
Two weeks ago the AFL-CIO’s Executive Council met and discussed the crisis facing the labor union movement. The piece that i wrote was drawn from remarks that i have recently delivered, though I had no opportunity to deliver them to the AFL-CIO, unfortunately. I have no idea whether the upper echelon of organized labor will pay any attention to my views, but what is more important is that activists in the union movement grasp that this is not a moment to ‘tinker’ around the edges. As Jerry Tucker raised more than 20 years ago, organized labor desperately needs its own reformation. It must rethink its mission, ways of operating, strategies, and alliances. To be a workers’ movement, or to be part of the overall workers’ movement, it is challenged with first understanding the nature of contemporary capitalism (neo-liberal globalization) and the intent of neo-liberal capital to eliminate all forms of worker organization. This is not mere rhetoric. The issues that the Occupy Movement raised regarding the “1%” help us to understand the depth of the class war that is being waged against workers, farmers, and most of the middle strata, by those at the top.
In 2005, as the split in the AFL-CIO approached, several unions, led by the American Federation of Government Employees, suggested the need for a very broad discussion of the future of the labor movement. The proposal, rejected by those who split from the AFL-CIO (the Change to Win Federation), offered the view that there needed to be an engagement of the rank and file, as well as allies of organized labor, in a look at the current situation and what must be done. Such a discussion/engagement has not happened. After the split the AFL-CIO seemed to believe that such an engagement was not necessary and Change to Win also never took the plunge, apparently thinking that the pre-split exchanges sufficed as an analysis and prescription.
In the absence of both a concrete analysis of the actual conditions linked with a theory of change, one is left with nothing more than almost blindly seeking creative tactics to resolve a situation that is rooted in an archaic–at best–conception of the role of a labor movement. It is in that light that what is needed ends up being more than individual reforms, but, instead, Tucker’s proposed labor reformation. It is this that must be forced upon the movement otherwise the movement will continue its glide-path toward oblivion.