For several decades in the middle of the last century, millions of workers of all ethnicities woke up on Labor Day each year and headed for their local Labor Day march. Arm in arm they walked down the streets, singing songs of solidarity. It’s no accident that in those same years, income inequality was falling, not rising. The day in, day out preoccupation of people deeply concerned about promoting positive, progressive social change back then was building a strong workers’ movement. The organizers of that movement, however, never saw rising incomes as their goal, nor did they limit their understanding of a strong workers’ movement to the narrow conception of a good union contract. Quite the contrary, the organizers of our biggest Labor Day marches always understood the workers movement to be about more than a good union contract, and much more than today’s myopic goal of merely a good wage. A strong workers’ movement was understood to be the cornerstone of a much larger project: building a just society.
While in Montreal for the aforementioned national organizing conference, I agreed to do a radio interview with a Canadian researcher and blogger, Michael Rozworski. He blogs at Political Eh-conomy. Michael published the podcast of our interview, and, was then asked to transcribe it into an article for the magazine Jacobin, who then ran it as an interview in early October. Alternet also reblogged the interview in mid-October. Jacobin took the title from my closing comment in the interview,
“Organizing is about having hard conversations. It is fundamentally about having hard conversations with people and not running away from hard issues. You can’t win a union campaign in the US environment if you don’t do that.”
Despite the popularity and appeal of social media, hard conversations actually happen face-toface. And, it is much easier than one thinks to have thousands of face-to-face conversations in a short period of time. The interview is the first time I mention that I have a next book coming, which I do (stay tuned). The next book expands my argument about deep organizing versus shallow mobilizing, the same topic Michael took up with me in the interview after hearing my speech at the national organizing conference of Canada’s biggest private sector union, Unifor (see above and the tab Consulting for a few related pictures from the Unifor conference).
In August, I was in Canada twice to work with two different unions, each of whom was laser focused on how to end the regime of Canada’s seriously rightwing Prime Minister, Steven Harper. Though few imagine life will be easy for climate campaigners, working people and more under the new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, sending Harper and his party packing was a really good start to restoring Canada to, well, Canada.
In this picture, I am giving a keynote address to the national organizing conference of Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union. I am holding a copy of the New York Times in my hand, with the page turned to a terrific story called “The Closing of the Canadian Mind,” by Stephen Marche, about how devious and secretive nature of the Harper era. Glad it is over, now there’s much to be done!
My first academic article is hitting the press, published by the journal Politics & Society. If you have access to a university account, please download it from their website. Politics & Society is an expensive academic journal and my article, along with several commentaries written by other academics, are all locked behind a firewall. But you can read my article by clicking here. In addition, though the journal apparently solicited only critical commentaries, the editors are refusing to let me respond. As such, you can read my response to the commentaries by clicking here.
This article was just awarded the “Best Graduate Student Paper of the Year,” by the Labor Section of the American Sociological Association.
What follows is the ‘abstract’ for the article. Abstract is an academic term that basically equates to a summary of the key arguments I make.
Scholars attribute contemporary union failure to structural factors, such as the legal decision allowing striking workers to be permanently replaced, and to globalization. This paper examines the strategic choices made by New Labor’s leadership after their victory at the AFL-CIO in 1996, and the choices made by the breakaway unions that formed Change-to-Win (CTW). I identify the influence of Saul Alinsky in the background of many of the current New Labor leaders and attribute the strengths and weaknesses of New Labor’s organizing approach to Alinsky’s strengths and weaknesses. I argue that despite two decades of rhetoric about organizing and the difficulties presented by a hostile climate, a critical factor in labor’s decline rests with decisions within their control; their decisions to embrace corporate campaigns and narrowly defined interest-based politics, strategies that led unions away from workers and the workplace and put them at odds with unorganized workers and the community.
Doug Henwood and I sat down and spent an hour discussing my new Politics & Society article (September 2015 issue). The interview is an overview of the past twenty years of what’s called ‘New Labor’s’ ascent to the leadership of the US labor movement. As Henwood points out, the article is locked behind an expensive firewall. If you have access to a university library account, please download the article. Otherwise, click here for the article as I submitted it to the journal.
I gave one of several keynote speeches at Alberta, Canada’s premier progressive policy and research operation, called the Parkland Institute. I zero in on the different between mobilizing and organizing in this talk and discuss how we will only be able to build sufficient power to challenge the elites when we return to deep organizing. I argue we have to put the agency for change back on ordinary people, not professional staff.
I like the team at the Real News Network, pity they can’t replace Fox News! This interview is about Scott Walker’s decision to flip Wisconsin to a right-to-work (for less) state. The interview was conducted just before the actual decision, but it was all but done. I trace the connection between Jim Crow and racism and right-to-work (for less) laws.
The new governor of Illinois, Bruce Rauner, is a hedge fund manager whose salary last year was $60 million. He spent $65.9 million—including $27.6 million of his own money—buying his last election, and he’s about to introduce an austerity program that will make most folks in Illinois think they are living in austerity-wracked Greece, with less idyllic weather. While he’s generating national headlines by trash talking unions, he is quietly taking a scalpel to every important social program in the state, starting with an Illinois’ program which subsidizes high-quality childcare for 160,000 low income kids. Instead of extending a small tax increase that passed the Illinois legislature in 2011, staving off a crisis, he’s letting the increases expire. Rauner is methodically manufacturing an economic crisis for his state, one that will let him do what he has long been set on doing: shrink the government and squeeze the 99 percent.
Siobhan is a terrific Irish activist and she did a great job asking me questions that relate to the current struggles in Ireland, including the growing anti-austerity movement, the great Irish water privatization protests, and more.