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Caveat: This is my first diary, so be patient with me.

I would like to begin an honest dialogue with interested persons in the progressive community about the state of unions in America, and to a lesser degree, in the world economy.  By way of background, I have been involved in the labor movement for over a decade.  I have been a rank and file union member, a union officer, and a staff member at a large union.  I have seen the best of what unions can offer, and on rare occasions, the worst.  I believe that a reinvigorated, improved labor movement could be one of the most powerful forces for the progressive changes this country and the rest of the world so badly need.  I hope that a fair number of people on this site believe this as well, and would like to have some discussions with interested persons on why this goal should be pursued, what the barriers are (both inside the labor movement and outside of the labor movement), and what some possible solutions are.  

Anybody interested?

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Comment Preferences

  •  I've been working for unions for over 30 years (10+ / 0-)

    and everything we've done to win in the short run, has been overwhelmed by the long-term economic trends.

    We are winning a higher percentage of elections than ever. But we win an election for 100 workers at some company, and the next week Hostess closes and we lose 30,000 union jobs, at least for awhile.

    I'm aggressively fighting for unions every day, all day long, and winning sometimes, but I/we are far behind where we were in the late 1970s when I first started organizing at the non-union parcel delivery shop where I worked.

    I hoped Chance to Win would change something, but I ain't seen it.

    I just hope to live long enough to see Labor rise up one more time.

    Orly, it isn't evidence just because you downloaded it from the internet.

    by 6412093 on Sat Mar 16, 2013 at 10:21:07 PM PDT

    •  Thank you for your years of hard work (5+ / 0-)

      I know the feeling of two steps forward, one (and sometimes more) step back.  It is frustrating, but what you have done has mad a difference for a lot of people, even if they themselves haven't fully realized how much.  Organizing is a tough and sometimes thankless job.

      I don't think the change we need is coming from the top inside or outside of the labor movement.  I think it is going to have to be more state by state and regional based change.  But I hope we both live to see the change.

  •  Heck My Last Diary Here Was About Unions (5+ / 0-)

    as my Republican father taught me unions are good. Unions are important. You don't fuck with unions. I've never been a union member myself, but that doesn't mean I don't care. Cause I care a lot about unions!

    When opportunity calls pick up the phone and give it directions to your house.

    by webranding on Sat Mar 16, 2013 at 10:24:26 PM PDT

  •  Can you expand on this? (9+ / 0-)
    I believe that a reinvigorated, improved labor movement could be one of the most powerful forces for the progressive changes this country and the rest of the world so badly need.  
    I'm a big union supporter, but I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on what a reinvigorated, improved labor movement would look like.
  •  I think union activists need to get mean. (6+ / 0-)

    As much as we would want to believe America unionized in the 20th century through some enlightened process, it was actually much simpler than that: Open a non-union shop, and problems with everything you do would come out of the woodwork - permitting, building codes, health codes, breakdowns in the supply chain, missing or inexplicably delayed deliveries, inventory ending up in a lake instead of in your warehouse, etc. etc.  

    The point was simply to guarantee that it cost more - a lot more - to be non-union than to just pay the workers right.  Unions forgot how to do that without being indicted or going overboard and becoming the Mafia's bitch.  

    Without a strong safety net and living wage, all labor is forced labor.

    by Troubadour on Sat Mar 16, 2013 at 10:34:18 PM PDT

    •  It Was More Base Than That (5+ / 0-)

      As I said my last Diary was about Unions. Not that long ago if you used non-union labor where I live your construction project might burn to the ground.

      Now clearly I am not suggesting that. But unions were powerful. You didn't fuck with them.

      IMHO there is something to be said for that ....

      When opportunity calls pick up the phone and give it directions to your house.

      by webranding on Sat Mar 16, 2013 at 10:39:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yeah, that's the Mafia stuff. (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        webranding, palantir, FG, nextstep, NancyWH

        Definitely want to avoid that.  Being on that level of criminality makes an organization dependent on support from the people who run the crime in a city or region, which has historically meant robbing the pension fund to pay them off and giving their stooges no-show jobs.  That defeats the purpose of having a union, and just opens it up to federal indictment.

        Without a strong safety net and living wage, all labor is forced labor.

        by Troubadour on Sat Mar 16, 2013 at 11:11:37 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  the mob only got in (5+ / 0-)

          when they ran the reds out.  A lesson to hold tight if there is a next time around.  Don't let the bosses, including the ones with a D after their names, convince you to run off those with a selfless, political and ideological commitment to advancing the interests of the working class.  If you run them out, the vacuum created will be filled with those less selfless and less scrupulous.

          Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?

          by ActivistGuy on Sun Mar 17, 2013 at 12:02:09 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I don't blame anti-Red D's of the time. (6+ / 0-)

            For one thing, it was completely insane to be a Communist after a certain point when it became known how those ideas were playing out in practice in the USSR, China, and Cuba, and anyone who still subscribed to that probably shouldn't have been affiliated with the US labor movement by then.  For another, it was necessary to inoculate the Democratic labor, social welfare, and Civil Rights agenda from those kind of associations in order to get it passed.

            And I say that as someone who, I'm pretty sure, would have been a Communist if I'd been born between the 1890s and 1910s.  Communism drew the wrong conclusions from the right values and ended up creating some of the deepest and most pervasive nightmares in history.  It had gone utterly insane by the late 1920s.  American Reds didn't learn that until later, so I don't blame them either.

            Without a strong safety net and living wage, all labor is forced labor.

            by Troubadour on Sun Mar 17, 2013 at 12:28:37 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  ahem... communist China isn't doing so bad (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              NancyWH

              in the economic realm... now is it?

              And our American corporate masters have all lined up to get a foothold in Communist China. American corporate masters cannot get them enough Communist China.

              We're broke. Communist China is not.

              Because it's more than just the economic philosophy. Communist China has a captured populous whom they can exploit all to hell.

              Red and communist are not exactly synchronous... even though that propaganda has been drilled into your head.


              A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.

              by bronte17 on Sun Mar 17, 2013 at 07:35:59 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  It's no longer communist. It's just a normal (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                nextstep, NancyWH, Dirtandiron

                capitalist country run by unelected but largely technocratic government.

                •  It's not remotely democratic (0+ / 0-)

                  and the economic activity is state-sanctioned and state-controlled.

                  And civil rights and liberties are missing... amongst many things.

                  Singapore, where the wealthiest Chinese live (fled the mainland long ago), capture sensitive American technology which they transfer to China and then they murder a young American man to keep it quiet.

                  Singaporean capitalists want to spread the "Communist" model of economic development... captured workers living in squalor with no freedoms.

                  And our American capitalist overlords are only too willing to sell us out for that model. Blood red works just fine for them.

                  The question is not "Who lost China." The question is "Who sank America."  It seems we don't get to keep it after all... if the Mitt Romneys and his Republican ilk have their way.  


                  A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.

                  by bronte17 on Sun Mar 17, 2013 at 10:34:58 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

          •  A little labor history.... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            samddobermann

            It's not true at all that organized crime influence entered the labor movement after the reds were driven out.

            There have been organized crime elements associated with unions going way, way back. I have an oddball book on my shelf called "The Imperfect Union: A History of Corruption in American Trade Unions" that draws on contemporary newspaper accounts of union corruption in the NYC building trades dating back to the turn of the 20th century.

            Likewise the most famous association (in popular imagination) of the mafia with labor is the story of Jimmy Hoffa. Hoffa's alliances with gangsters pre-dated the red hysteria of the 40s and 50s, and continues today in some locals of the Teamsters.

            One necessary condition to reinvigorating organized labor is to deal frankly with the problems of the past, and of the present. An unvarnished understanding of labor history is needed for that.

          •  McCarthyism hurt unions terribly (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            brae70, samddobermann

            It made union officials too scared to do their jobs. It made unions side (out of fear) with the very politicians trying to ruin them. I think it is a separate issue from the mob, but McCartyism was probably worse.

            Where are all the jobs, Boehner?

            by Dirtandiron on Sun Mar 17, 2013 at 02:40:04 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  Troubadour - many of the items you mentioned (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      palantir, Victor Ward, skohayes, NancyWH

      are crimes and I don't think that criminal behavior will endear the labor movement to working class Americans.

      "let's talk about that"

      by VClib on Sat Mar 16, 2013 at 10:39:42 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Other options (8+ / 0-)

        While not advocating illegal actions, I think Troubadour has a legitimate point that unions decades ago had a more aggressive approach to organizing and representing their members.  There are a number of legal ways to go on the offensive, which are under utilized.  And some of the federal laws that limit union activities need to be revisited, as some activities were banned solely because they were too effective.

      •  At some point it becomes self-defense. (6+ / 0-)

        People have been robbed blind by these arrogant corporate scumbags.  The whole country has been bled half to death, and even as productivity and profit have soared, the ordinary person has less and less a share of the fruits of their own labor.

        And they're not just robbing people by underpaying them, cutting pay and benefits and jobs to give themselves bonuses - they're also buying politicians and legislation that reduce ordinary people to second-class citizens and take away their rights.  It's self-defense at some point to balance the books on their thievery.

        Without a strong safety net and living wage, all labor is forced labor.

        by Troubadour on Sat Mar 16, 2013 at 10:54:17 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Criminal activity is never justified (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          palantir, skohayes, NancyWH

          It's one thing to engage in civil disobedience, and be arrested to call attention to the struggle of labor and the working class. It's quite another thing to be engaged in criminal activity such as stealing and property destruction. The labor movement needs a positive image to be successful. Criminal activity reinforces negative stereotypes, and I think would hurt the labor movement.  

          "let's talk about that"

          by VClib on Sat Mar 16, 2013 at 11:11:58 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  But it didn't hurt the labor movement. (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            palantir, NancyWH, samddobermann

            It practically created the labor movement.  What hurt the labor movement was being co-opted by the mob, and then because of the all scrutiny that created, not being able to respond when corporations and corrupt governments started chipping away at everything they had built.

            Without a strong safety net and living wage, all labor is forced labor.

            by Troubadour on Sat Mar 16, 2013 at 11:56:52 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I think that was a very different era (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              palantir, NancyWH

              when the organized labor movement was viewed differently than they are now. If unions returned to criminal activities today I think the public would again believe the view that unions are tied to organized crime. It has taken so many decades to sever the perception by the public that unions are in control of the mob, why would you run that risk?

              "let's talk about that"

              by VClib on Sun Mar 17, 2013 at 12:19:36 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I don't think the public has any problem with (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                andalusi, NancyWH, samddobermann

                labor unions, and I don't think they had much of a problem with them even when they were mob territory.  Ordinary people made a living because of unions, bought houses because of unions, sent their kids to college because of unions - America loved them.  But the organized crime thing gave the government an excuse to crack down.  So obviously that shouldn't happen again.

                As for the rest, it's naive to think you can recreate a strong labor movement just on the basis of values and upstanding solidarity.  It's just not going to happen - not in a circumstance where corporations control everything, have all the political juice, and commit crimes with impunity.  The open secret of American freedom is that you have to take it - no one just concedes it because you have a stronger moral or philosophical case.  Arrogant businessmen figured that out a long time ago, and for a time labor had them in check because they knew it too.  Now labor has to learn how to apply that realization to the 21st century.  As long as they believe they can get anywhere by asking to get back what was taken from them, nothing will happen.

                Without a strong safety net and living wage, all labor is forced labor.

                by Troubadour on Sun Mar 17, 2013 at 12:40:46 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

  •  As a union member, (5+ / 0-)

    a former union officer, a former union organizer, and a part of my union's negotiating team, I feel it is important that we have an open discussion about the importance of labor unions in the 21st century. We must show that unions are important to all working Americans in this century and how they relate to the new globalized world of work.

    Thanks for raising the issue.

  •  Sad realities (5+ / 0-)

    First, thanks for taking the initiative to start this conversation here.

    It's frightening to contemplate that the level of unionization in the American private sector today is no higher, and quite possibly lower than what it was a century ago, less than one in ten private sector employees is a union member.  And that number dwindles annually.  For all practical purposes of today, all the great union struggles, the organizing campaigns, the rise of the CIO and the whole 20th century labor movement may as well have never happened.  But of course, this is worse than what Wobblies and other organizers in 1913 faced, because there has been since what seemed to be a successful union movement in America.  Now it stands rejected, unions and the principle of solidarity itself scorned by America's working people.  At least my great-grandfather, Socialist Party organizer in Chicago 100 years ago, didn't have to overcome the legacy of a movement that was still emitting the stench of death.  

    Before there can be any significant progress toward building a new labor movement, whether on the lines of traditional bargaining-nit workplace unions, or solidarity unions, community unions, the hammerlock that the culture and ideology of "rugged individualism" have on working-class America needs to be deeply and broadly undermines.  The period of the decline and defeat of American workers in the distribution of the national wealth corresponds perfectly with the successful substitution of "rugged individualism" for the spirit of solidarity.  This needs to be brought home in ways that cause the people to reject "rugged individualism" on their own, and start to look for something that better serves their self-interest (rather than self-centeredness).

    To be honest, I'm all out of ideas as to how to make that happen.  All I know is there can't be a successful new workers' movement until it does.  

    Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?

    by ActivistGuy on Sat Mar 16, 2013 at 11:45:51 PM PDT

  •  In my view, (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FG, Chi, NancyWH, Dirtandiron, samddobermann

    the first thing that needs to happen is to restore a positive image of unions in the public eye.

    Unlike Troubador, I see a lot of anti-union sentiment - even great hostility to unions, here in red country.  That should surprise no one because the right wing noise machine has been been on a decades long campaign to smear unions as enemies of both the people and competition.  They believe unions strangle the economy.

    The people need to be reminded how much the unions have given them.  They need to be reminded how hard the struggle was the last time around.  And they need to be educated as to why we need a resurgence of unions in today's world.

    I'd like to see ads, good documentaries that get national attention, movies based on historical truths in union history.  

    I'd like to see unions go international, to help level the playing field all over the world.  I'd like to find out what is going on internationally so we can join forces.

    I want unions to make a big comeback.  I believe it is the only way forward.

    Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth - Abraham Lincoln

    by Gustogirl on Sun Mar 17, 2013 at 08:05:34 AM PDT

    •  There is a lot of anti-union sentiment.... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      samddobermann

      There is a lot of anti-union sentiment out there. It's very obvious when you view the comment threads on the labor news stories published in the mainstream press.

      And anti-union sentiment is now pretty much standard equipment in any Republican elected official, at both the local and national levels. If anything, this is getting worse.

      Even here on DKos, you see a fair amount of comments that start with "I support unions, but...." This usually precedes an attack on teacher unions or other public sector worker organizations.

      Let's not kid ourselves. We have a lot of work to do to improve the public attitude toward labor unions.

  •  Public Employees Federated (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dirtandiron, samddobermann

    member here.  I don't know what ot will take to convince people we need more union membership in this country.  I know we have good wages & benefits, and I want that for everybody.  

    "The light which puts out our sight is darkness to us." Thoreau

    by NancyWH on Sun Mar 17, 2013 at 09:44:23 AM PDT

  •  ditto from me. I have been a (0+ / 0-)

    mostly a strong non-union  ('cept for a short time) proponent of unions. I once ran for a public office and am proud that I got the endorsement of the Alabama(!) AFL-CIO.

    I was converted from being anti-union from my fathers experience of being forced to give kickbacks on Teamster Union pension fund building jobs and then being Subpoenaed to testify at the trial of Jimmy Hoffa by AG Bobby Kennedy. After, they crashed my father's business.

    I got straightened out by a husband who grew up in Dearborn with a Union father.

    Later, in law school I took Labor Law and Labor Law History with one of the greatest labor lawyers, Jay Murphy. I wrote about him in a much earlier diary someone did about Alberta Murphy, his wife.

    I'm asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about real change in Washington ... *I'm asking you to believe in yours.* Barack Obama

    by samddobermann on Sun Mar 17, 2013 at 09:27:48 PM PDT

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