I wrote a piece on Labor Day for the Classism blog. Please take a look when you get a chance.
Workers and organized labor are in deep trouble. There is nothing surprising in making that statement. But i am tired of the ‘sky is falling’ approach that i repeatedly hear. In fact, it frequently feels as if we, in the union movement, go back and forth between denial, on the one hand, and the end of the world, on the other.
If we start with a recognition of the extent of the strategic defeat suffered over a more than thirty year period by workers, we can actually come to terms with the reorientation that we must consider. Gapasin and i attempted to address this in our book Solidarity Divided. Other commentators such as Kim Moody and Jane McAlevey have also added profound insights into the situation in which workers and their unions find themselves.
When one is in an asymmetric situation vis a vis an opponent, one must consider dramatic shifts in strategy, tactics and organization. In our current situation, labor unions cannot organize themselves out of our dilemma…at least restricting ourselves to organizing and recruiting in isolation from something much bigger. In a recent talk i gave in Buffalo i suggested that unions really need to be engaged in a conscious effort at winning local power. This is what Gapasin and i were getting at when we spoke about the need to create working people’s agendas and working people’s assemblies as a way of building a strategic linkage between and among organizations and movements that are rooted within the working class. None of this, of course, precludes workplace organizing. Rather, workplace organizing and collective bargaining must be part of the effort at building power, a power that is both economic and political.
On Labor Day, let’s do more than participate in social events and cookouts. Let’s do a bit more than celebrate labor’s past. Let’s get engaged in the fight to claim the future.