the need for a labor reformation

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.

4 thoughts on “the need for a labor reformation

  1. Bill you are 100% correct as a mentor Jerry Tucker was phenomenal, as a trade unionist Jerry Tucker was unwavering, as a strategist Jerry Tucker was unmatched, as a visionary Jerry Tucker was laser focused hitting a bulls eye with his predictions. Bill, I further agree with your assessment of the seriousness of where the labor movement is and seems to be heading versus building and implementing the aggressive/pro-active strategy needed for REAL success. Too often those who rise to the top levels of labor organizations forget from where they came or were never part of the struggle to begin with. There is no shortage of on the ground activists however there is a shortage of confident leaders who are not intimidated by the rank and file or aggressive staff who are truly dedicated to the labor movement. Throughout history the truly great leaders have embraced the rank and file and been receptive to the strategies and ideas of aggressive pro-active staff.

  2. Indeed !

    I have said since 2002, that probably the only way any significant change in the Labor Movement is going to happen, is if new Unions and eventually a new type of Labor Federation, like the CIO in the 1930’s, is formed. Unlike the phony Change to Win federation, the type of new Unions and new Labor Federation will have to be COMPLETELY controlled by the members in a democratic manner, very militant in it’s direct action tactics, with NO property assets and offshore protected liquid assets.
    In essence, a rented office, leased vehicles, just enough cash in local banks to pay for basic expenses and staff salaries.
    These current Labor so called “leaders” are collaborators with the current neo-liberal corporate- state.
    They are afraid of being sued, don’t want to risk their comfy six figure salaries, would never risk going to jail, don’t want to upset their “friends ” the democrats, no matter how many times the membership and Working people in general get sold out. Will organize unorganized Workers only if it is cost effective, and even then they screw it up half of the time because of their timidity. Most of all, they refuse to even question the current corporate system.
    When the rank and file in many Unions are successful in voting out the incumbent do nothing collaborators, more often than not the local is put in trusteeship by the national Union.
    The purpose of current U.S. Labor law is to first and foremost protect employers against real Unions, and secondly, to protect corrupt undemocratic Unions from their own membership.
    The obstacles are great, but I agree with you that if Unions are to survive, significant real changes are needed.
    It is probably too late for a reformation, what is needed is a rank and file revolution !

    David Johnson
    Retired UBC Carpenter
    Champaign, IL.

  3. Glad I found your site. Have been wanting to comment since seeing you some time ago on either Chris or Dylan Ratigan, whichever it was. Thing Rs use against Labor is public dislike of strikes. When strikes are Labor’s major tool what we got is what we get. But what ELSE?

    Something we’ve never had, but could get. Corporations were CREATED to enable them to steal from others (like gold and slaves). Point being, ETHICS, or even possibility of ethics, was never built in. No MECHANISM of real control by shareholders. Vote more theoretical than real. Help ethical shareholders get right to vote FOR ethical standards in running of corp and also as part of corp charter, ethical shareholders can make profit-sharing w workers reality. Cd also put labor reps on board of directors.

    What better than strikes AGAINST corps? Becoming part of system DNA OF corps. Ethical shareholder movement natural alliance for Labor. There is a multitude hungry for corp reform. Be part of it! Don’t wait for Congress, CHANGE the corporate structure.

    May the force be with you. The fate of America’s workers IS the fate of America.

    • Thanks. There are various organizations, including unions, that have been involved in shareholder movements. The Service Employees International Union is one such union. There have also been those involved in the environmental movement who have used that approach.

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