Remaking Labor–From the Top-Down? Bottom-Up? or Both?

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  This is an amazing review which captures what many folks that I know have been saying since the early 2000’s. The writer, long time labor activist Steve Early, contrasts the perspectives between two recent authors and their analysis of the labor movement in LA Stories: Immigrant Workers and the Future of the Labor Movement by UCLA professor Ruth Milkman and US Labor in Trouble and Transition: The Failure of Reform from Above the Promise of Revival from Below by Labor Notes co-founder Kim Moody. It articulates well the critique of the professional staff driven “change from above” unions (such as SEIU and the unions associated with the Change to Win Coalition) which often brand themselves as progressive or social movement unions, or are characterized as such by their supporters on the left and academia. What the review unfortunately doesn’t do well is delve into the concrete of  Moody’s potentially alternative vision for “revival from below.” Early roundly criticizes Milkman’s support for SEIU and the “change from above” approaches in the labor movement:

Milkman “never addresses the serious concern … that SEIU growth has been achieved, in some sectors, at the expense of contract standards, community allies, workers’ rights, membership participation, and leadership accountability.” Milkman’s infatuation with the vanguard role of the union’s “innovators”—college educated organizers, researchers, strategic campaign coordinators, local officers and trustees—also leaves little room for examining more incisively how SEIU operatives actually interact with the working members who nominally employ—and, more rarely, elect—them.

  Unfortunately the boosterism and cheerleading on behalf of the “change from above” self-styled reformers that comes from academics like Ruth Milkman as well as other authors such as UC Berkeley professor Kim Voss (with her Hard Work, Remaking the American Labor Movement with Rick Fantasia)was parroted or perhaps reluctantly swallowed by many on the left so disappointed with the conservatavism of mainstream labor that any promise of change seemed better than nothing. Only with the recent moves by SEIU and the division between HERE-UNITE has the thin curtain been pulled away to reveal the situation that has been at hand for many years. Sadly I feel many radicals, myself included of course, missed the boat in not putting forward these criticisms sooner when they became apparent in the early 2000’s, perhaps even the late 1990’s. Let it be a word to the wise.

 

Remaking Labor–From the Top-Down? Bottom-Up? or Both?

By Steve Early (original link to this review online here)  

Review of: Milkman, Ruth. L.A. Story: Immigrant Workers and the Future of the U.S. Labor Movement. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation, 2006. 244 pp.$24.95 (paper).

Moody, Kim. U.S. Labor In Trouble And Transition: The Failure of Reform from Above and the Promise of Revival from Below. New York, NY: Verso, 2007. 289 pp.$29.95 (paper).

From Working USA: The Journal of Labor and Society, March, 2008 Vol 11. Issue #1

The veterans of Sixties radicalism who became union activists in the 1970s belonged to a variety of left-wing groups. Regardless of other political differences, most of them shared one common belief—namely, that union transformation and working class radicalization was a bottom up process. As Stanley Aronowitz observed in Socialist Review (nee Socialist Revolution) in 1979—when Ruth Milkman, author of L.A. Story, belonged to its “Bay Area Collective”—young radicals usually became “organizers of rank-and-file movements” and builders of opposition caucuses. They immersed themselves in “day-to-day union struggles on the shop floor” and the politics of local unions, often displaying in the latter arena “almost total antipathy toward the union officialdom.” Because “union revitalization” also required organizing the unorganized, rather than just proselytizing among existing union members, Aronowitz approved, “under some circumstances,” leftists becoming “”professional paid organizers.” But he encouraged those who took this path to “see their task as building the active rank and file, even where not connected to caucus movements.”

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Can we rebuild the labor movement with the Employee Free Choice Act?

Can we rebuild the labor movement with the Employee Free Choice Act?

 By Adam W. for the January 2009 Industrial Worker

Also appearing online on the IWW (Industrial Workers of the Wolrd) website: http://www.iww.org/en/node/4597 

This version includes an added correction.

Much has been said in the United States labor movement around the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), a bill many mainstream leaders tout as the solution to the decline of unions. With the recent election of Barrack Obama and the Democratic Party holding the majority of seats in both houses of the US Congress, these same leaders have their hearts set that their millions of dollars in campaign contributions will pay off with the passage of the bill.

The meat of the EFCA would amend existing labor law in the US to allow unions to gain official recognition in a workplace through a majority of workers signing authorization cards and avoid the perilous and employer-dominated election route. Once a union is certified, employers have to begin sitting down with the union within ten days. If no deal is reached government mediators can force employers to sign a first contract,  even without the vote of workers. The EFCA also would drastically increase the penalties companies face for violating workers rights, such as with firing workers for organizing, which happen at record rates in the US compared to the rest of the industrialized world. Workers could receive up to three times the back pay owed and companies could be fined up to $20,000 for willful or repeated violations.

 

What are members of the IWW to think of this? We are a small but growing international union with a vision of a completely different world. Not the vague change promised by both sides in the US presidential elections, but a world without bosses, where everyday workers are in the driver’s seat, and where hopes and dreams for a better world can truly be realized. Will the passage of the EFCA move us closer to our vision of a new world? There is certainly a great deal of hope in the change that the EFCA could bring, but I think we need to look more critically whether substantial change will come even if the EFCA should pass.

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