Political Animal – Could Climate Hawks Replace Labor?
The big discussion today is the long, seemingly unstoppable death of the labor movement. We seem to be faced with an insurmountable concentration of influence in corporations and the very wealthy. Plutocrats use their influence to swing elections, and then use the power there obtained to further eviscerate countervailing interest groups, so they can strip even more of the country’s wealth into their own pockets. Rinse and repeat. Ordinary middle class non-unionized workers seem to resent public sector unions and covet their benefits, instead of realizing that their lives could be easier if they were so organized. (I also think it’s important to recognize that public unions played no small part in their own downfall through greed and overreach.)
In any case, it seems unlikely that labor is going to rise from the dead. It took the Great Depression to break the power of the plutocratic elite last time around, and with this financial crisis elites have managed to keep the system from completely collapsing, though only just.
The attacks on labor unions over the past decades has proven successful in public opinion, in law and in the courts. If progressive politics is to survive, one method would be to find new allies and new terrain to fight on. This isn’t a bad idea but environmentalists are currently under the same kinds of attacks that have impaired labor unions. An alternative media is necessary to put out progressive ideas but more important we need a new generation of progressive thought and investment in think tanks and other organizations to develop long terms plans for the decades. Planning needs to be long term to be effective.
FROM AROUND THE WEB -
From the web site, Talking Union, A Project of the DSA Labor Network:
No force did more to build the American middle class than organized labor. In recent decades, however, unions have been decimated. Despite concerted efforts to turn the tide, the movement now represents only 7 percent of workers in the private sector. Never have working people in this country been more in need of a collective voice. Yet, we must ask, can labor alone create the change we need? If it can’t do it by itself, what role can unions play in supporting a wider progressive uprising?
Few individuals are offering more interesting, credible and challenging views on this question than veteran labor strategist Stephen Lerner. Ezra Klein recently wrote in The Washington Post: “Ask union types who the smartest labor organizer is and they’re likely to point you towards [SEIU] organizer Stephen Lerner, who planned the legendary Justice for Janitors campaign.” In the most recent issue of New Labor Forum, Lerner has an essay titled “A New Insurgency Can Only Arise Outside the Progressive and Labor Establishment.” It is a must-read for all those who wish to think seriously about creating change in this country.
From the web site, Ned Resnikoff, Tractatus Blogico-Philosophicus (This argument is better expressed in the whole article which I recommend you read in full. For copyright, Fair Use, reasons, I don’t want to take more of his article, just enough to build the discussion. JP)
Let’s table any questions about the relative merits of school vouchers and social security for now, since it’s not in my wheelhouse and argument-by-links is generally an indication that we’re supposed to take pronouncements like “vouchers are awesome” and “social security is regressive” as premises. I’m willing to do that for the sake of this particular argument. But there’s a very curious omission here: after going on about the “historical pro-union and direct governmentalist roots” of progressivism, Flanigan goes on to talk about only the latter root-category. It’s almost as if she had to get in a casual swipe at the labor movement before moving on to what she really wanted to talk about.
The counter-argument, I suppose, is that progressive opposition to vouchers is all about unions, specifically the teachers’ union. But A) no, and B) you can’t expect to be taken seriously by anyone with any interest in organized labor if you choose to treat the labor movement as just another interest group whose primary goal is to lobby the government for goodies. Being “pro-union” means a hell of a lot more than just endorsing legislation that some unionized workers might like.
And finally, from the web site, The New Labor Forum, On the Contrary:
We live in a dangerous time when large corporations and the super-rich are restructuring the nation’s economy. There is a crisis for most Americans, but not for the elites who dominate the political economy of the country. Unfortunately, organized labor can be as much of an obstacle as it is a solution to mounting a movement for social justice that might reverse this trend and offer hope for the future.
Unions have the money, members, and capacity to organize, build, and fuel a movement designed to challenge the power of the corporate elite. But despite the fact that thousands of dedicated members, leaders, and staff have worked their hearts out to rebuild the labor movement, unions are just big enough—and just connected enough to the political and economic power structure—to be constrained from leading the kinds of activities that are needed.