Maybe I’m suffering from Machete408 envy, so this text is on the long side. Bear with me.
Splits, re-joinings, trusteeships and grand standing, Roselli vs. Stern, Stern vs, DeMoro, Sweeney vs. Stern, Wilhelm vs. Raynor. Each one of them claiming to be the one and only salvation to the Labor Movement. More and more, the union movement seems to be trapped on a web of compromise and disinterest.
If in one hand the union movent is on the downturn, the Labor movement seems to be on a slight upswing. The Coalition of Imokalee Workers, the Great American Boycott in 2006, the Colibri Workers, and the sit-in at Republic Windows are just examples of what is brewing in the Labor Movement across the country.
All the while, the Union Movement is concentrated and bogged down in the Employee Free Choice Act.
I’m not going to go into EFCA. My friend Adam has an alternative view posted on his blog about EFCA.
But what is the prospect of a rejuvenation of the Union Movement; more importantly, what can be done so the union Movement can rejoin the Labor Movement? For answer, we must look at what the Labor Movement is.
The Labor Movement is a social institution. It is a force that is part of people’s lives , and is part of the discourse of people’s lives. It addresses people’s needs in a way that requires them to get involved. A church is a social institution because it is part of the lives of the parishioners even outside of the church, it requires participation and guides the politics and ideas of its members. The Labor Movement, as a social institution, is the same. It is an institution of migrant workers, women workers, queer workers, waged and unwaged workers, union and non-union workers, for migrant workers, women workers, queer workers, waged and unwaged workers, union and non-union workers.
The Union Movement started as part of this Labor Movement. At times, it was the most militant and impressive part of that Labor movement. In those moments, the Union Movement was also about more that winning wages and contracts. It was ebbed on peoples lives. It fought for reforms that would benefit not just the members of a union or federation, but the whole working-class. The eight-hour day in the United States. The Spanish Civil War. Solidarity in Poland. CUT and the Metal Workers fight against the dictatorship in Brazil. COSATU in South Africa.
Bill Fletcher’s book “Solidarity Divided” starts with an anecdote about a meeting between leaders of COSATU and SEIU. When an SEIU delegate remarked that the role of the union is to fight for its members, a COSATU representative replied that the role of the union is to fight for the interests of the working-class, which sometimes can conflict with the immediate interests of its members.
To do that, the Union Movement must be a living, breathing part of working-class struggles for a better life. The Obama administration has made no move to change the draconian immigration laws of this country, and continues to promote, through ICE, the destruction and separation of people from their loved ones, through raids at people’s homes, work and schools. While labor may be all too willing to pass a resolution or two about immigration, more is needed. We must become decisive players in favor of migrant workers, educating our membership about the crucial connection (not just in a moral level) between the condition of migrant workers and the condition of non-migrant workers. We must become visible defenders of the migrant worker community, by promoting and enforcing sanctuary-city laws, by creating “solidarity-piquets” against raids, by organizing with the migrant community against right-wing back-lash and govermental policy.
As the crisis of international capitalism deepens, more and more people are seeing themselves out of work. While everyday we hear more and more about white collar-workers and professionals that are losing their jobs, groups that historically have suffered from high rates of unemployment such as Blacks and Native-Americans, are in an even more precarious situation. Subemployment (petty trading like selling bootlegs on BART or in the streets, part-time or temping) are becoming more and more endemic.