Labor’s Turnaround

David Moberg, IN THESE TIMES (March 3, 2013) Excerpt—

The continued decline of union members as a share of the workforce–down three-tenths of a point to 11.3 percent last year–undoubtedly contributed to a new seriousness.Much of organized labor’s lost share of the workforce last year reflects heavy layoffs in relatively strong union sectors, especially public and manufacturing workers, that disproportionately hit highly unionized states like Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and New York, according to AFL-CIO chief economist William Spriggs. And in most of those states, unions suffered direct political attacks

“We’re cognizant of the state of affairs,” AFL-CIO organizing director Elizabeth Bunn said, “but we’re not demoralized.” While organizing has slowed, Bunn and Cohen said that it certainly has not stopped: CWA has several large campaigns and the United Auto Workers are working with what president Bob King described as a community-led effort for worker rights to a union at a Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi. And last year, while most unions shrank, four AFL-CIO members–Unite Here, National Nurses Union, AFGE (federal employees) and the International Association of Machinists–added more than 5,000 new workers each.

If labor is to survive, one legislative goal is paramount: removing the huge legal roadblocks to workers exercising their right to organize. Although right-wing Republican control of the House precludes any serious effort at reform of labor laws, the AFL-CIO is working on new version of the Employee Free Choice Act that would go beyond the current focus on union elections. The new proposal would reflect changes in the workplace and economy, Bunn said, such as the increased use of subcontractors and outsourcing. Many employers use these arrangements to evade legal responsibility for workers, making union organizing more difficult.

More immediately, unions are mounting a campaign to pressure Obama to nominate the full complement of five members and one general counsel to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the main labor law enforcement agency. In this, too, Republican roadblocks are likely. At the beginning of 2012, Republicans tried to block all NLRB appointments, which would have essentially stopped enforcement of labor law, as the Supreme Court has ruled that NLRB decisions by less than a three-member majority are invalid. Obama circumvented the blockage with two January 2012 recess appointments, but the those appointments–and thus all subsequent NLRB decisions–were invalidated by a D.C. Circuit Court ruling January that is currently being appealed.

Labor unions expect Democrats to use “all options” to force a Senate vote on the nominations. “We will not sit back and watch” as Republicans try to block appointments and render the NLRB ineffective, Cohen said angrily at the meeting, thumping the table. If Democrats don’t pull out all stops, like Republicans did in 2005 to push through judicial appointments, he says, “We will mobilize against Senate Democrats like we’ve never done before.”

Trumka argues that the labor movement must not separate politics, organizing and other activities but must incorporate “innovation and growth” into every dimension of its work. The AFL-CIO has reformed its old field services staff now into a campaign staff, shifting from a business union servicing model to more of a movement-building social unionism engagement with union members and allies, for example. And Working America is trying to support organizing more as it expands its already well-proven political track record.

At the same time, Cohen argues, labor’s primary focus must be on democratizing America, securing rights for average people at work and in politics, building their power and raising their standards of living. “The story [about the decline of the unionized share of the workforce] is not about the numbers,” he said. “It’s about rights, rights of the 80 million of 125 million workers who are supposed to be supported by the National Labor Relations Board.” The United States has fallen far below other industrial countries in democracy, rights and standards of living, now looking more like Mexico or Colombia.

Read the complete article at


The website for IN THESE TIMES published a number of reader comments. The following one by Alan Maki is representative of an important perspective on Labor’s renewal and its shotgun marriage with the Democratic Party:

Let’s be honest here and not fall into the delusion that real change is taking place when all that is being done is Trumka is trying to make sure he gets all liberals, progressives and leftists further mired in the morass of the Democratic Party holding up the tail of Dumb Donkeys like Obama begging for the right to pick up what the sparrows leave behind.

What we need is a class struggle approach to working class problems that includes a working class based people’s party like labor has in Canada with the socialist New Democratic Party combined with mass united struggles in the streets like P.A.M.E. (the All-Workers Militant Front), in Greece, is engaged in.

As long as the working class is hobbled by Democratic Party hacks and muddle-headed well-heeled middle class intellectuals like Robert Reich, Dean Baker, Joseph Stiglitz and George Lakoff who don’t have to work for a living are doing our thinking for us, we will not move forward.

The AFL-CIO Executive Council refuses to acknowledge peace is central to solving most of our problems; we can’t have guns and jobs because these dirty wars are killing our jobs just like they kill people.

The AFL-CIO refuses to consider that we need legislation mandating the president and Congress to be responsible to attain and maintain full employment with real living wage jobs in league with the defeated “Full Employment Act of 1945” instead of the nonsense that came with the phony “Full Employment Act of 1946” which has nothing at all to do with full employment.

In the area of health care reform what we need is a National Public Health Care System which would provide the American people with free health care while creating over twelve-million new jobs.

Forget Obama’s phony “pre-school” proposal; what is needed is a National Public Child Care System providing working class families with free child care while creating some three-million new living wage jobs.

Instead of “covering Obama’s backside,” Trumka and the members of the AFL-CiO’s Executive Council should be concerned about improving the standard of living of the working class; Obama is Wall Street’s politician; Wall Street is our enemy.

We can’t on the one hand strengthen Obama and the Democrats by supporting them and then have to fight them— what sense does it make to weaken ourselves by strengthening our Wall Street enemies?

Trumka is already talking, “Elect more Democrats.”

What do we expect to get out of electing more Democrats?

Here in Minnesota we have a Democratic super majority that won’t even enact anti-scabbing and anti-lockout legislation.

Talking about organizing, the main impediment in this country to union organizing is “At-will Employment” legislation and the Democrats with their super majority here in Minnesota won’t even consider repealing this most draconian and repressive anti-worker legislation.

Why continue to evade discussing what really needs to be done?


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