Seminar: Five strategies for the labor movement

I'm a few days late, but I thought I'd chime in on this conversation. As penalty for my tardiness, I've only allowed myself four suggestions. More background here.

Without further ado:
  1. Commit to the use of organizing campaigns as a fundamental strategy (but don't make the mistake of thinking that all organizing campaigns look alike).

  2. Make decisions through processes of participatory democracy that push power as far down into the rank and file as possible.

    In my head, these first two hang together and have to do with what sorts of institutions unions need to be if they are to be associations that deserve public confidence. To have real power in the workplace, the union must run campaigns which emanate from and depend for their success on workers talking with one another about their working conditions and about the nature of their power in the workplace. For that power to have moral legitimacy, its use must be directed through democratic processes. This means lots of knocking on doors and lots of one on one conversations with the aim of increasing participation in the meetings where decisions are made about the direction of the union. But it also means that we have to obsess about the power dynamics that are present in those meetings, and in all interactions between those who are doing the work of the union. This is partly about leveling the distinction between rank and file and the activist corps, but also crucially involves thinking in practical ways about the impact of class, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, culture, and so on -- doing so is the only way to have discussions, make decisions, assign tasks, and create accountability under conditions of equality. Which gets me to the parenthetical. What I was gesturing at there is that having all of the conversations needed for the rest of this won't happen unless we're also working to forge a community out of the workers in bargaining unit.

  3. Invest heavily in organizing the unorganized.

    At the end of the day, the best way to increase confidence in unions is to increase access to union contracts. This is well trodden ground, so I won't say much more except to advocate for a massive national campaign targeted at Labor Ready, ManPower, Adecco, and the like.

  4. Drive the national conversation about social justice.

    See above. More to the point, labor is the Left's best chance to get back into the national conversation. To do that, labor needs to have a strong, independent, and progressive voice. We all like John Edwards' message, but the authenticity concerns are real. Why should labor's point of view depend for its expression on a trial lawyer turned politician? And while we're on the subject, let's shut up about the so-called corporate media. As Andy Stern could teach the rest of us, public relations isn't rocket science.

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