21st Century Worker Justice
This is the first part of a series on how labor organizing will evolve in the coming years.
The Wall Street Journal ran a piece recently called Dave Bing’s last second shot. In it, they talk about the challenges facing Detroit’s mayor, devoting special attention to how they feel he must handle unionized city employees. The anti-union sentiment of this piece is regular fare for Wall Street Journal columnists.
The fundamental premise of labor organizing is that when workers are treated fairly, everybody wins: the customer, the company, and the employee. This is as true now as it was at the time of the Boston Massacre (the result of a dispute between Boston ropemakers frustrated at their employers’ willingness to undercut wages by hiring off-duty British soldiers who could afford to work for less). It’s a realization that customers are best served by solid businesses with happy, productive workers.
The strategy and tactics of unions must evolve like everything else that’s ever existed on Earth. The economy has evolved beyond the wildest dreams of the original labor organizers, but their guiding principle endures. The problem is that the criticism of unions often comes from those that disagree with it’s premise (i.e. conservative columnists at the Wall Street Journal).
Space must be created within the labor movement and the broader liberal & progressive community for a dialog on what evolved unions look like and how they interact with business and government. This has not happened in any scalable, visible fashion for the same reason that there has yet to be a reasoned, meaningful dialog about US-Israel policy: fear of being called an anti-Semite. In the context of rethinking unions, the fear is that you’ll be labeled as anti-union or anti-worker/human rights. The nuance-less zero-sum game must end because it leaves us with broken union models like most teacher unions.
No matter how business and government evolve, there will always be a need to ensure that workers’ needs are met. Without that, businesses, economies and governments will inevitably fail. You could even argue that the economy being divorced from the everyday realties of workers is one underlying cause for our current economic situation.
I’m surprised that labor itself hasn’t driven this conversation more publicly, but my sense is that the hesitate to do so because they don’t want to give those that disagree with their existence any public statements to latch on to. A dose of boldness is needed to see through the short-term impact of a few negative news cycles if it means creating a more robust organizing model for workers in future generations (assuming that’s the goal).
So how do we proceed?
One Love. One II.