Saturday, April 21, 2007

Shameless Hijacking of a Discussion Thread...

Since I apparently used tags that are not allowed in Blogger's comments, I am shamelessly directing a great discussion from Dave's blog to this one... I hope its not too shameless. But, anyway, on Dave's blog, I see Dave's post having two different "themes":

  1. He is tired of being lectured about the dying labor movement by mostly white and mostly male aging baby-boomers that oversaw that very decline.

  2. He is deeply skeptical of the ability of "corporate campaigns" to succeed as a force for organizing labor in this country

On the first point, I cannot agree with Dave more. I am tired of being told how great the labor movement used to be and how our generation "just doesn't understand." I am frustrated by the fact that, as I try and learn in the Movement, I am continually told that I have no clue what I am talking about or that I am a kid "playing union." I think that at some time or another, all of us in the grad labor movement have faced this -- and I am a straight, white male. I see Dave's criticism arising partly from the fact that labor leaders, union bosses to the rank-and-file leadership, have become complacent over the past fourty years by failing to incorporate employees from new economic sectors into their "good-ol' boys" club. Even as many of these boomers complain of the decline of the labor movement, Dave rightly points out that there has been an expansion in the public and service sector employment by unions that largely employ women and minorities (though it is important to note that the presidents of AFSCME, the UFCW, SEIU, and UNITE HERE are all white males).

But, on the second point, I find Dave's analysis a little bit more problematic. On the one hand, he argues that the decline of the labor movement is becoming perilous because we have been following the same old tactics of the boomers straight off the metaphorical cliff. On the other, Dave is skeptical of one of the new tactics that has been employed to try and reverse this decline. It is a point that Dave has made before, which sadly died with the Green Blog of Revolution, about the effectiveness of a labor strategy that does not incorporate job actions. I have two arguments. I believe the first falls in line with what Patrick and Wobblie have argued, and I have previously discussed on my blog; in short, the labor movement will be stronger and succeed more by building a strong community-based organizing model and working with organizations like the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. I think that we all agree on this point.

My second argument addresses the tactics of "comprehensive campaigns" themselves. In the past direct labor action has succeeded because it was aimed at the bottom line of the corporations. In a period of mass accumulation, shutting down a plant for a day, week, month, year cost the corporation money. This is still true for our "white and tight" brothers and (some) sisters in the building trades. But, as corporations in the United States shift from making their their money by mass accumulation and much more from flexible accumulation and non-productive service work, then organizing a direct work action does not really affect the bottom line of the corporation. But, just as the CIO used new tactics of plant shut-downs compared to the AFL method of limiting the labor pool by controlling apprenticeships into the trades, the new economy requires new tactics be designed. Because so many corporations now rely on their images, the building a comprehensive campaign can be an effective way to start hitting the bottom line of corporations. And, where infrastructure has not been privatized, political pressure by highlighting the negative impacts of the corporation are entirely appropriate.

Which brings up Wobblie's point -- flinging poo 'til something sticks is not the best way to implement this tactic. Particularly in conservative Scottsdale. But, at the same time, at least the UFCW is organizing. At least they see the importance of building these connections. And, they have also taken a strong stand and their leadership has learned from their members at Smithfield and SWIFT plants and have, more effectively than any other attempt thus far, linked immigration to labor rights. And, with strong organizing with comprehensive campaign tactics, UNITE HERE has built a strong model in both Las Vegas and the Hotel Worker's Rising campaign. At different times, both of these efforts could probably have been accused of "flinging poo" but, overall, have given labor great hope in the past couple of decades. So, to the extent that the mistakes along the way are contained (see UFCW's TESCO campaign in Scottsdale) we should not discount the tactic of comprehensive campaigns.


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