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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Labor organizing

The new American revolutionary realizes that the working poor need to be organized not just at their working site, but at their living place. The progressive labor organizations recognize that unions should be engaged with broad based community organizations fighting for social, economic, and environmental justice through local publics.

At a book club meeting at the AFL-CIO yesterday, I heard from two of the contributors (Scott Paul and Harold Meyerson) of the new book Remaking of America, published by the Alliance for American Manufacturing which is pushing for a focus on manufacturing in the US and setting forth national policies that might accomplish more manufacturing jobs. They discussed the 11% decline in wages despite the increase in worker productivity, the off-shoring of jobs, the trade deficit, the misguided immigration policy, and the corporate use of profits and surplus cash to buy back stock rather than invest in R&D or workers. And they indicated how this is leading to general economic decline for the country as well as the greater disparity among rich and poor. They compared this shareholder capitalism to the stakeholder capitalism of Germany which includes worker input through councils and participation in boards.

But my ears especially perked up when Meyerson discussed the new demographics where the cities and where most of US residents live have elected progressive, usually Democratic mayors, which have become the locus of a shift of power from a national government that has been stymied by polarization. Recognizing this suggests a new organizing strategy for labor organizations by focusing energy and resources on local organizing in urban areas which will then influence state and national policies. A good example of this is the fight for raising the minimal wage to a living wage. But the same could be applied to training and incentives to immigrants, coordination instead of competition for locating companies, training and housing for workers, smart growth planning linking jobs, housing, and transportation, energy practices that keep down costs and maintain independence, and pressure on corporations to contribute more to their communities and their residents.

Most labor leaders would preach the same, but whether their practice will meet their rhetoric needs to be tested. The AFL-CIO has unions with locals, many participating in local Labor Councils, and has developed a worker center strategy that seems to be compatible with such a practice, but does not seem to be well implemented.

Since a number of us associated with organizing networks in various urban regions are discussing with the White House Council on Strong Cities and Strong Communities (SC2) the establishing of Local Resource Networks through "quarterbacking" community-based organizations, it seems to me that perhaps labor should be brought into the strategy. One payoff for labor would be the development of their worker centers. I will be contacting the Secretary/Treasurer of the AFL-CIO here in DC to see if they might be amendable and partners in our strategy.

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