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This is the first of a series of blogs written by Stewart Acuff titled The Future of the American Labor Movement.

With the AFL-CIO and the American labor movement announcing at the winter meeting in Florida that they are going to take a good, hard look at themselves and their institutions, I offer a few humble suggestions. The future of the American labor movement and its impact on the lives of workers, American politics, and the American economy is too great not to be the subject of a positive and supportive broad ranging discussion.

First, do not ever give up the fight for full organizing and collective bargaining rights for all American workers. And, when we say all, we mean all, including all those left out of the 1935 Wagner Act, now the National Labor Relations Act. Most left out, of course, were left out to appease southern Democrats and include all public employees – victims of the 10th Amendment and states’ rights, agricultural workers and domestic workers victims of the peonage that replaced slavery.

And, of course, for those covered by the National Labor Relations Act, the law no longer works and must be amended to protect those who try to form unions and bargain collectively. We came very close to fundamental changes in labor law with the Employee Free Choice Act. Whatever we may call it today, our country and our economy need workers to have the full, unabridged, unmitigated freedom to form unions and bargain collectively.

The lack of a real and full freedom to form unions and bargain collectively is the core of our economic crisis. 35 years of assaults on workers and unions have led to 35 years of stagnant wages, very weak consumer demand, an 800% increase in incarceration. In effect our anti-poverty program is hustling for cash, then going to prison for three hots and a cot.

The right to organize a union and bargain collectively is accepted by every democracy in the world including South Africa and Brazil. The right to organize and bargain collectively is enshrined in the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights created to define the rights of free people after the World War II destruction of Nazism, Fascism, and Japanese Imperialism.

What does the absence of organizing and collective bargaining rights say about freedom and democracy in the United States?

And how can we recover from our ongoing economic crisis caused by the 1 or 2% without greatly increased consumer demand and regular raises negotiated and guaranteed through collective bargaining?

The awful irony is that an almost completely free and unregulated financial sector on Wall St. nearly destroyed the economy of the United States and the world. We bailed them out with our pitiful wages and they continue to rake in cash while we are forced to deny our kids.

No one will campaign for this critical, fundamental right if the labor movement doesn’t. Social change in America often takes a very long time – often generations. But what if Frederick Douglass or Harriet Tubman had given up? What if Gene Debs or A. Philip Randolph or Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Harvey Milk or the millions of average Americans who risked everything for a better, freer, more just, more perfect Union had given up?

We call it a struggle because it is one.

The future of America as a great country is dependent on this change. We cannot afford to stop our efforts – or our intensity in our efforts.

And when organizing and collective bargaining rights are challenged anywhere we must respond with our entire enraged movement.

The campaign to win these rights and freedoms must not be a Beltway or DC based effort. This campaign must be based on grassroots union activists AND non-union workers. Unless we have a strong electorate, we will ultimately be sold out in a political deal.

Union workers must understand that they have an investment in organizing, that the more union members in their firms, their industry, their country the more bargaining power we all have.

And the labor movement cannot be lackadaisical in the fight.

What institution would allow the government to keep people from joining the organization or entering their institution?

This potential major change in all aspects of our society must be pursued with all the passion we can muster and all the passions our foremothers and forefathers brought to the fight for an 8 hour day and the right to have a union.

© Creative Commons Copyright 2013


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Stewart Acuff is the former organizing Director of the AFL-CIO. Acuff has also written two books: Playing Bigger Than You Are: A Life in Organizing, and Getting America Back to Work.
Get the e-book edition of Playing Bigger Than You Are for $2.99 by clicking here!

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Comment Preferences

  •  How about this approach to upping union numbers. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Workers themselves are always going to have a target on their chest.  Retaliation in any one of a hundred ways is just too easy for employers who consider themselves "dissed" by an uppity hireling.  This is especially true in the world of Repub courts and GOP crippled governmental regulatory bodies.  How about taking this battle to the woods, so to speak.  Why does not every union in the country offer an auxiliary-type of membership at a minimal fee open to private citizens?  Call it anything you want to stay within the rules, whatever they may be on this.  I grew up in a labor union family, but work for a really good employer and have no focused outlet for my gut-level support of labor.  The auxiliary, of one or of many unions who might join together in such an effort, would be free to engage corporations at those moments when they demonstrate vulnerability.  We wouldn't have to think twice about the threat of losing our job and it's crap healthcare coverage because the wife or husband is sick.  here is an example of action that could have been taken.  Wal Mart recently showed some angst about January and February sales .  A union auxiliary could have been mobilized to make March another downer month for them, and it would have not cost us much anything in real terms.  That would have given them a really bad quarter, which would have taken some 'splainin, and might have prompted some reconsideration of their employee treatment.  Auxiliary members could actively explore that Costco membership, shop at other stores with better reputations, and maybe refuse to buy any groceries at Wally World.  They couldn't have gotten away so easily with the canned "We're cutting costs for you because we love our customers..." message.  If this is a real battle, let's employ the tactics and strategy that have proven to work today's world of asymmetric warfare with overwhelm oppositional money and resources -- geurilla warfare.  Does Richard Trumka or some lieutenant read your stuff here or esewhere?  Chat them up!  We can be here for them and their members in a much more active way if they just provide the leadership.

  •  I remember a post (0+ / 0-)

    awhile ago from a restaurant worker who said they were unaware there was even a union for restaurant workers.

    That's part of what's wrong.  Here was an experienced worker whose never even heard of a union for her, much less seen an union organizer or even met a former union member who talked up the union.

    Every single worker in this country should meet a union organizer once a month or once a year, just for good luck, if nothing else. Or see a union leaflet, an union blog, a union post, a union diary, a union newsletter, or talk to a pro-union fellow worker, at least sometime during their working career.

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

    by 6412093 on Mon Mar 18, 2013 at 12:46:35 PM PDT

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