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Can American Labor Unions Be Relevant Again?

with 3 comments

      “I believe leaders of the business community, with few exceptions, have chosen to wage a one-sided class war today in our country — a war against working people, the unemployed, the poor, the minorities, the very young and the very old, and even many in the middle class of our society.”

      “I would rather sit with the rural poor, the desperate children of urban blight, the victims of racism, and working people seeking a better life than with those whose religion is the status quo, whose goal is profit and whose hearts are cold. We intend to reforge the links with those who believe in struggle: the kind of people who sat down in the factories in the 1930’s and who marched in Selma in the 1960’s.”

      – UAW President Douglas Fraser in 1978

Jerry Tucker Labor Leader and ActivistFor decades, American workers have progressively watched their incomes and working conditions decrease and their opportunities lowered. As a result, Americans continue to view the economy and their families’ prospects negatively. Every American knows why these reduced expectations are occurring, but no one seems to have a definitive answer.

On March 12, 2005 at the conference on “Work and Social Movements in the United States” at University of Paris – Sorbonne, the late Jerry Tucker, labor leader and activist, told the audience,

”America’s 21st century workers need a labor movement committed to fight alongside them against those ‘who would destroy us and ruin [their] lives’ and leaders who have the courage to launch a strategic counter-offensive against the aggression on all fronts. If there are such leaders, they can start by openly ‘speaking truth to power’ and denouncing corporate America’s war on workers and working class communities, naming the ideological nest the perpetrators swarm out of, and condemning the overwhelming government backing they receive.

Yes, today many American workers are cynical and, collectively, do have reduced expectations. They know all too well that their quality of life is under attack and, for many of them, that unionism has not held up its end in the struggle. That was also true in the early 1930s. But that does not mean now, as then, that the willingness to fight back, the urgency to resist injustice, and the desire for dignity have been driven from the consciousness of our sisters and brothers. They have it in them to engage in struggle when they perceive the struggle has immediacy in their lives, when the injustices are real, and when they know they will not be alone. There are among them good and even great leaders for the struggle to come. A program that reconnects with workers built around their needs at the base, not just the notions of distant bureaucrats, is the way to start rebuilding the labor movement.

With history as our guide, the revitalization of the labor movement also cannot occur without a revitalization of an independent left within labor. U. S. labor as we know it today, and as is demonstrated by the narrow limits of the AFL-CIO debate, lacks the credibility to form the multi-lateral and multi-racial relationships for a new, dynamic social movement. A revival of progressive, socially-conscious left thinking internally could alter that reality and open up many new options.

U. S. labor needs a counter-offensive. And, the centerpiece of labor’s counter-offensive, with or without all current labor leaders, should be derived from a new vision of America based on justice and the creation of a new social intersection for all of those abused by the nexus of corporation and state and today’s neoliberalism.

A true crisis-resolution strategy must re-introduce a culture, and shared vision, of struggle and of common defense, through worker-to-worker, union-to-union, and social-movement-to-social-movement solidarity. Under one broad social banner, we need to declare war on poverty, racism, sexism, imperialism, and the denial of the fundamental right to affordable health care for all, full employment, shorter work-time, and many others of the true values due all participants in a just society.

Crisis-bound, U.S. labor is at a crossroads. The direction it takes will impact, for better or worse, the lives of a majority of all Americans.” [my emphasis]

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3 Responses

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  1. I think not. Labor unions are meaningless in tomorrow’s world.

    amyclae

    January 2, 2013 at 9:38 AM

    • Check out Germany before you make any global statement such as this one.

      Valerie Curl

      January 2, 2013 at 10:21 PM

      • You think Germany is living, today, in tomorrow’s world? Interesting.

        amyclae

        January 2, 2013 at 10:34 PM


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