Monday, May 09, 2005

Don't Mourn, Organize

The Moose argues for the imperative of a reinvigorated and innovative labor movement.

America needs a strong labor movement as never before. With the rise of the Bush plutocracy, there is no counter-balance to the power of money. Yet unions have been in decline for the past thirty years. In large part this is the product of the changes in the economy and de-industrialization. But the labor movement has been slow to respond to these changes. While it has aggressively sought to represent government employees, the private sector organizing has faltered.

Although John Sweeney assumed the Presidency of the AFL-CIO a few years ago to reverse this trend, he is now the target of internal dissension. The New York Times reported yesterday,

"Already facing upheaval and dissent from several union presidents, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. saw its problems escalate last week when the federation laid off about a fourth of its staff and the chairman of its public relations committee resigned in a fit of pique. Not only that, but four of the nation's largest unions demanded that the A.F.L.-C.I.O. remove their members' names from its master political list of 13 million workers because of a feud over sharing information.

"Adding to the discord, the presidents of five unions - the service employees; the Teamsters; the laborers; the food and commercial workers; and the hotel, restaurant and apparel workers - plan to gather in Las Vegas on Monday to discuss whether to back a challenger to John J. Sweeney, the A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s president, in his bid for a new four-year term."

One of the key dissidents is the President of the service employees union, Andy Stern. Stern is an innovative thinker who is attempting to recreate the labor movement to adjust to the changing economy. He realizes that politics alone is not the answer to labor's woes and it must return to grass roots organizing efforts.

The Moose applauds the attempts to modernize the labor movement and urges it to think anew in addressing the concerns of working people. Not only should labor focus on the economic issues facing employees, but also the cultural anxieties that afflict working families. It is fine to take on Wal Mart as an organizing target because of it low wages and poor benefits, but labor also should recognize that the company is on to something when it provides its customers "family friendly" products and avoid selling violent video games and sexually explicit videos.

Unions should also be on the side of parents who are attempting to shield their children from negative cultural influences that are peddled by corporate America. Labor should seek innovative ways to out reach to mega-churches. Indeed, unions should reconnect with religion - as the Moose has pointed out, he attended more church services when he worked for the United Farm Workers than the Christian Coalition.

As an effective organizer, Cesar Chavez understood those who he sought to organize were devout, and he integrated faith into his efforts. If unions are going to appeal to red state America where many middle and low income workers reside, they must be sensitive to their traditional values.

As the old adage goes, man does not live by bread alone. The sooner that labor recognizes that, the more effective their organizing efforts will be.

-- Posted at 8:14 AM | Link to this post | Email this post