Thursday, June 26, 2008

My Turn, Five Strategies for the Labor Movement

In the ongoing online seminar discussing what can improve public confidence in the labor movement, I wanted to add my two cents. As a punishment for extreme tardiness, I will restrict myself to three:[1]

  1. Highlight grievance procedures one of the main strengths gained through organizing. Too many times I have seen discussions about negotiations or unions in general revolve around wages and benefits. I think that these are important - don't get me wrong. I like to be paid and I like my healthcare provided (although, I would prefer that be provided as a fundamental right -- but that is a discussion for another time and place). But, some of the most important benefits belonging to a union is the fact that you have the right to a fair process before disciplinary action or firing can happen. This is a fundamental notion for most people and gets at the basic sense of freedom in most Americans - you should have the right to defend yourself. Dave mentions this as one of many items, but I think that highlighting this single point can go a long way.

  2. Think of new ways to organize that speak to the realities of workers. This is where I believe that organizing must overlap with PR. Our notion of "organizing the workplace" is antiquated. Too many workers now have two or three jobs - organizing one workplace does nothing without organizing the other one or two in which workers are employed. I think that there is some movement towards this - UNITE HERE's organizing of entire hotel markets under a single contract -- or all jobs in the case of the Las Vegas Culinary Local. Also, the idea of a "Freelancer's Union is the type of thing that the AFL should be taking seriously. Similarly, we need to stop thinking about "workplace" issues versus other issues. For example, the biggest obstacle facing workers in New York is not necessarily their wages or benefits, but the exorbitant cost of housing in the city. Organizing for the realities of new types of lifestyles is a necessity.

  3. Go for citizen-initiated ballot proposals to overturn "right-to-work" laws. Yup, that's right. I've gone off the deep end. Lex is right, EFCA needs to be passed - major victories set a "winning" agenda. But, I think that going after right-to-work laws does two things. First, it allows labor to set the agenda on labor issues rather than being defined as the opposition. We all know the advantage to proactive campaign messages rather than reactive ones. Second, spending money to win something means that our opponents have to spend money to defeat us - rather than us spending money to defeat them (and really gaining nothing that we don't already have in the process). Let's go for broke. We'll win some, we'll lose some - but, hey, at least we're setting the agenda.

I'd be interested to hear what others think.

[1] Of course, this is also because many of the good ideas have been taken.


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