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What kind of movement do working people need to build a better future? What changes should labor make? Those are some of the questions I posed to you two months ago—and Daily Kos readers and progressives everywhere have offered all kinds of ideas. We’d like to hear more—even your off-the-wall ideas. Please share your thoughts by commenting on this post or go to We’re still listening. Already, at in-person gatherings as well as online, we’ve heard from more than 5,600 people—union members, activists, allies, academics and others.

We’ve been poring through those ideas and recommendations to identify common threads to take to the AFL-CIO Convention in September. Here are a few of the big topics that have emerged:

It’s time to enable more people to be part of the labor movement and create new models of worker representation.
Except for those at the very top, people who work for a living have not been able to get ahead. Many working men and women want to come together to change that, but they cannot become part of the labor movement as it exists today. The proposal is to open membership to anyone who wants to join and build a dynamic new workers’ movement—one that working men and women can join without having to go through the trial by fire of an NLRB election. Although we know collective bargaining is the proven way for workers to build power at work, some new forms of membership for some workers may not include collective bargaining rights—at least initially.  

That may mean changing the structure of unions.
Bringing more people into the movement and enabling more workers to mobilize together may require changing the structure of unions and the union movement. We need to be inclusive of “independent contractors” and others who don’t have a typical employer-employee relationship.

Keep becoming more independent of the Democratic Party.
This is a theme that’s come up again and again—the labor movement should be investing more in our own effectiveness and less in the party, and holding fickle elected officials of all parties accountable for their votes on working family issues. At the same time, all progressives need to be working to reverse Citizens United, to put politics back in the hands of the people rather than the richest special interests.

Educate! Communicate!
Here’s another common theme best voiced by two participants:

•    “The face of union labor in the media is this big greedy bully who pushes a button for $40/hour at the expense of minimum wage workers and business owners everywhere….The public needs some serious re-education. Especially on the connection between workers’ rights, income inequality and social ills that affect everyone.”
•    “Unions…have been negatively defined by their enemies and have done little to fight back. A strong and sustained public outreach effort needs to be organized where the benefits of unions to society are strongly promoted on a regular and ongoing basis.”

Hold corporate CEOs accountable.
Defund the right wing. “Name and shame” bad companies. Become as adept at taking on finance capital as we’ve been in the past at standing up to those who control manufacturing….These are just some of the recommendations we’ve heard.  

Shape new types of community engagement.
Unions have to build real and durable partnerships. Working together in communities for good learning conditions for students and good working conditions for teachers, for example, can build stable, sustainable communities with benefits for all. We have to tear down the silos built over generations and redefine labor-community solidarity in a way that works for everybody and can change communities for the better.

Will you add your voice and your thoughts to the mix? Share your ideas by commenting here on Daily Kos or go to I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Solidarity unionism (9+ / 0-)

    Thinking in class terms rather than immediate workplace advancement.  Community unionism, the sort of thing we see reverberating at a very low level among fast-food workers etc.  AFL-CIO created this "Working America" thing, but don't seem to know really how to engage it and mobilize it.  I strongly believe that properly organized and led, such bodies represent the future of the working class in the increasingly rigid and corporate dominated US society and culture, before we lose ourselves entirely.  The clock is running, and it's not slowing down.

    "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel" ~Dr. Samuel Johnson

    by ActivistGuy on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 10:59:32 AM PDT

    •  This "Working America" thing (9+ / 0-)

      Hey ActivistGuy,

      We agree: engaging communities that don't have the benefit of a union is a big part of the future of the labor movement.

      That's why we believe the work we're doing around the country is so important.

      In 10 years, we've grown to over 3 million members.

      We've started worker associate programs like Reel Working America in New Mexico.

      We've fought to pass earned sick days legislation in Portland, Philadelphia, Denver, and New York City.

      We launched, where anyone can assess workplace issues and find ways to address them.

      We helped pass a minimum wage increase in Albuquerque, and pushed New Mexico's largest county to follow their lead. We are currently educating New Mexico workers of their rights under this new law.

      We've helped elect and reelect hundreds of pro-worker candidates, from city council members to progressive champions like Elizabeth Warren.

      Every night, year round (not just election time) across the country, our canvassers have thousands of conversations on front stoops and porches about workplaces, economic issues, health care, and how folks can join together to make change in their communities and state capitals.

      We hope you visit and join our efforts. We're proud of the work we're doing.

      Feel free to ask us questions in the thread here too.


      Working America

    •  Thanks for your comment. (6+ / 0-)

      We need to make the labor movement more inclusive and easy for anyone to join, which is a major strength of Working America.

      Here are some examples of great work in the states WA members are doing (while making real change):

      In New Mexico, we have the min. wage campaign:

      In Colorado, mobilization around a jobs bill:


      In Portland, the earned paid sick days victory:

      Also, check out the Fix My Job site, it's pretty cool:

      •  A wise actvitist recently recommended two things: (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Words In Action

        This comes from Staughton Lynd, author of Labor Law for the Rank and Filer:

        ( warning: PDF)

        1) refuse to negotiate "no strike" clauses

        2) refuse to negotiate "Management Rights" clauses.

        In his view, well informed by his knowledge of history and the practice of labor law, business unions went down the wrong path on both of these issues.

        He is also an advocate of "solidarity unionism," mentioned by ActivistGuy above.  The NLRA has turned out to be a cage rather than a door.

        I'd second others' recommendation that business union bureaucracy needs to be drastically cut.  It's better to follow the approach of Spain's CNT and our own IWW and keep the overhead to a minimum.  

      •  It's good to see you here, Mr. Trumka. (0+ / 0-)

        We need more active dialog with the union movement.

        And I couldn't agree more about the need for inclusiveness and making it easier for people to align with the union movement, even if they don't have a union in their current job.  This strikes me as a crucial shift in consciousness among the unions.

        Of course, we still need jobs.  Please help keep the pressure on President Obama and the Democrats.  In a positive way, of course. :)

        --------------------- “These are troubling times. Corporation are treated like people. People are treated like things. …And if we ever needed to vote, we sure do need to vote now.” -- Rev. Dr. William J. Barber

        by Fiona West on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 04:59:52 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Should union membership be based (5+ / 0-)

    solely on work?  Should unions own the means of production, their own basic life necessities (food, housing, medicine)?  Do unions have the power or desire to do this fundamental work anymore?

    He who would trade liberty for security deserves great customer service.

    by Publius2008 on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 11:16:57 AM PDT

  •  Union-owned businesses (6+ / 0-)

    Perhaps it's time to encourage more union-owned businesses to compete with companies that don't hire from unions.

    Is this workable?

  •  proselytizing to other nations, free trade regions (4+ / 0-)

    we need to grow unions around the world.

    Instead of lowering the standards of living in the US, which has been going on for the last 30 years, we need to raise the standards in the countries where our jobs are being shipped.

    The best way to do that is to teach them to unionize as well.

    Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell. --Edward Abbey

    by greenbastard on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 11:27:50 AM PDT

  •  A broad-based movement for the working class. (7+ / 0-)

    Working class people -- including the unemployed -- should have an organization they can join which stands up for their rights and interests in society, as opposed to the self-interest of corporate ownership and the rich. Such an organization should not be linked to a specific field of work or employer.

    Therefore, Mr. Trumka, I strongly agree with this idea you mentioned:

    The proposal is to open membership to anyone who wants to join and build a dynamic new workers’ movement—one that working men and women can join without having to go through the trial by fire of an NLRB election. Although we know collective bargaining is the proven way for workers to build power at work, some new forms of membership for some workers may not include collective bargaining rights—at least initially.  
    And please also allow the unemployed to join such a new type of union. The workers' movement of the future should be about the dignity of work, the right of all people to work for a living, and to receive a living wage. And it should be very politically active but not tied to any particular politicians or party.

    The most serious problem in American politics today is that people with wrong ideas are uncompromising, and people with good ideas are submissive and unwilling to fight. Change that, and we might have a real democracy again.

    by Eric Stetson on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 11:44:17 AM PDT

  •  Take Back Labor Day! (3+ / 0-)

    Piggy-backing on the re-education of the public, and of public perception of unions, why not sponsor a "Labor Day Film Festival" on AMC, or something of that nature?  A weekend, or week, showing films such as Matewan,, The Molly Maguires, Reds, The Grapes of Wrath, etc., and have actual Union Organizers on to introduce and talk both about the films as well as the actual history of e.g., the Matewan incident, etc.  

    You could try to include documentaries, as well, and perhaps lesser known films.  Keeping the emphasis on the value that unions have brought to the country, and why we even have a Labor Day to start with.  

    Many, if not most, films made since the mid-50's on have featured unions as corrupt institutions.  If you want to re-educate the public, why not sponsor some film competitions, screen-writing competitions, etc., and try to get backing for actually producing some union-positive films?  They don't have to be terribly expensive to produce, and if you had a good script, perhaps one detailing the Bill Haywood trial, with a good role for say, Matt Damon to play Clarence Darrow (okay, I'm not a casting agent, I'm just throwing out an idea here), might that not help with public image and re-education?  

    There's a lot of really good drama in labor history, but the labor movement hasn't done a good job of investing in telling/teaching that history.  How about sponsoring a textbook on labor history, and making it available as a free e-book, and spending some time/effort/money to get it into classrooms around the country?  Evangelicals/Republicans have been all over trying to get their version of history into textbooks in classrooms all over the country for decades -- and look how well educated people are about labor unions in the communities where they've been successful.  Just saying -- if you're not going to compete, you're going to lose.  

    Labor Unions should be sponsoring advertising, competitions, history lessons, etc., and should be visible doing so.  People don't much pay attention to parades, rallies, or whatnot.  Labor Unions could jointly sponsor a "Workipdedia" site dedicated to preserving the history of the labor movement.  

    Just to make the point:  when I go to the website, there's not even a link, even to an external site, that tells me anything about the history of the labor movement.  

    If Unions aren't going to preserve and popularize the history of the labor movement, who will?  

    We are the first to look up and know, with absolute certainty, that the sword we ourselves have forged, is real.

    by Jbearlaw on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 11:56:12 AM PDT

  •  Get aggressive with labor drives (4+ / 0-)

    There are so many sectors of the economy that no longer have the power of unions. Think: If you could unionize fast food workers, or bank tellers, or any number of other low-wage work. Focusing on creating massive union drives, and bringing the union mentality wherever it is needed, that's what needs to happen. And yes, separate yourself from the Democratic party. Sponsor dems who are actually pro-union, and hold them accountable.

    And isn't it time for worker driven companies to emerge?

  •  Modern Monetary Theory. Unions need to get (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Words In Action

    up to date on how our monetary system works so they can make the case for things like higher wages, etc... better.

    First tip:  We have a fiat currency:  money created out of thin air -- that's how we're bailing out the banks through QE.

    We don't collect taxes before we create reserves.

    Nor do we have to collect taxes before creating dollars.

    Thus, we don't have to settle the issue of raising taxes on the rich before working people demand that dollars get thrown their way.

    Unions need to modernize, and understanding the monetary changes that happened both domestically in 1933 and internationally in 1972 would help.

    Heck, unions demanded The Greenback in the 30's -- they got fiat via Treasury borrowing from the Fed Reserve.

    This union triumph should be understood and politically capitalized upon.

  •  Pls consider leading a nationwide (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    effort to create unionized workers' cooperatives!

    Mondragon has a hundred businesses in numerous industries generating billions in revenue!

    We can do it here if we organize and work together.

    The reason the 1% is so powerful is that 99% of the 99% has a sleeping sickness. ☮ ♥ ☺

    by Words In Action on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 02:13:22 PM PDT

  •  Instead of becoming more independent of the Dems (0+ / 0-)

    Take a lesson from Grover Norquist. They want money and union volunteers knocking on doors then they can sign a pledge.

    A pledge to honor the campaign promises they seem to run away from like a burning building on the first Wednesday in November every two years. A pledge that nails them down to how they will keep their promises at the levels of both legislation and public relations. A commitment of pushing those promises on their own websites, in local newspaper editorials and on TV talk shows with an unbreakable promise to walk that picket line and talk about the plight of the worker.

    If they won't do it than screw them. Spend the money on organizing and community building.    

  •  An Uncomfortable Suggestion ... (0+ / 0-)

    ...I used to be a state employee and fought against the taking down of Civil Service law ~ unfortunately against a union that thought it would be "easier" to not allow their own paid employees so much as vote on this. This was because some of the units were open shops and workers did not have to pay union dues in exchange for the government funding given to the unions for BEING a union (I was a paying member in one of these units). When I found out about these plans I tried to appeal to the president to simply begin a campaign to get the workers to vote for a closed shop ~ after all if the union did a decent job of defending these workers (which they were required to do whether or not the worker was a paid member). But she did not listen, she was just determined to go and give them away in exchange for "collective bargaining" rights ~ so she could force those non-paying workers to increase her own take. Of course she did not also allow the right to strike in these negotiations so in essence she simply gave away the rights in order to enhance her own bottom line ~ to hell loss of rights for the 35,000-odd employees she was supposed to represent.  Instead she went behind closed doors and negotiated these rights away.

    Believe me as a person raised by WOBBLYS this was not an easy thing to do to go against my union! It was one of the most heart wrenching things I have ever done. But years before my grandfather explained to me the importance of Civil Service law. He told me, "If our government was not a decent employer, then they would not uphold labor laws that private industry should abide by..." Indeed as I saw those rights go away I have watched the erosion of worker's rights everywhere, and yes I know about the exportation of jobs, etc that was also happening. But taking away Civil Service rights only put it on steroids IMO. Europeans who keep those laws in place are doing MUCH better than we are doing ~ with the same competitions as we have (cough, cough while saying France, Canada, and Germany). Just sayin' ...

    Mr Trumpka, I have seen the tomes of Civil Service law in the law library and it covers almost an entire wall. In essence what this person did was take that law and negotiate it down into "rights" that fit into one of the union's pamphlets.  This began the movement to do the same thing with unions all over the country and IMO this is something that has caused nothing but loss for unions. This is why it used to take next to an act of God to fire an employee because management had better have good reasons and dot all their i's. If there had been Civil Service law in place for those workers in WI, Scott Walker could never have been able to use the stroke of his pen to take those rights away.

    Yes I know the conundrum for government unions with Civil Service was because these laws in essence "did the work for them" and so they felt they were becoming "dinosaurs" but tell me, what are they now, Mr Trumpka? Now they are having to re-fight the same fight my grandfather's generation had already won with great sacrifice (as a logger, he was part of the workers on the dock with the Everett Massacre), that he saw workers die to obtain those rights that sadly unions gave away.

    Mr Trumpka, those Civil Service laws are still there, gathering dust on law library shelves. Why don't unions realize the mistake they made and begin the fight to bring them back? We already know they worked, we already know they are still there. We just need to begin the fight state-by-state to re-implement them. No I am not using "just" as if it were simple, I mean they are already there my grandfather's generation already paved that part of the road.  And perhaps this time we could give government unions a bigger part in the implementation and continuing of these rights in order for those rights ~ and unions ~ to transfer into the private sector...

    Thanks for hearing me out, I am going to cross-post this on your website, so much more I could tell you but this is too long already ...

    Cat in Seattle

    First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they hurt you, then you win ~ Mahatma Gandhi

    by mntleo2 on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 10:47:06 PM PDT

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