August 11 – Philadelphia PA

By some accounts, today marks a significant gathering of organized labor: an estimated 50,000 union workers showed up in Philadelphia, PA, for the “Workers Stand for America” rally, helping to inaugurate the launch of a campaign for a “Second Bill of Rights.”

The full rally can be seen online here.

Does this indicate a shift in labor’s politics?

Read Article on NBC Philadelphia.

“U.S. labor union leaders appear intent on charting a slightly new course with the 2012 elections.
Upset by the Democratic Party’s decision to stage its presidential convention in a Southern state long viewed as hostile to organized labor [North Carolina], union leaders are holding a rally where they hope to highlight key issues important to middle-class workers.”

The theme of the event, the need for “a workers bill of rights”, hearkens back to the famous speech by Franklin D. Roosevelt, giving an updated list of rights:

• The Right to Full Employment and a Living Wage
• The Right to Full Participation in the Electoral Process
• The Right to a Voice at Work [ie the right to form or join a union]
• The Right to a Quality Education
• The Right to a Secure, Healthy Future – “health care, unemployment insurance, and retirement security”

From the AFL-CIO: “To add your name to this cause, text BOR to 235246”

Is this just more hollow posturing, or is it an indication for a struggle renewed?

In an article titled “How to Build a Mass Movement for Economic Justice“, “Dollar” Bill Greider places the rally within a larger array of progressive forces, perhaps a little optimisticly:

[A] cluster of progressive organizations, notably including the AFL-CIO, [have] decided to launch a more meaningful conversation. To that end, they encouraged Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker, co-author of Winner-Take-All Politics, to produce a comprehensive blueprint that, they hope, will stimulate broader discussion and mobilize working people to advocate for their interests.

Read the paper, titled ‘Prosperity Economics: Building an Economy for All,’ here:

In Greider’s estimation:

Strong on clarity and free of rhetorical excess, the paper dismantles the key myths of austerity economics and lays out an alternative agenda based on what Hacker calls “the three pillars of shared prosperity”: growth, security and democracy. ‘Prosperity doesn’t just `trickle down’ from the top,’ Hacker writes in the introduction. ‘It depends on the common investments and sources of security we agree on as members of a democracy, on institutions – especially unions – that ensure that gains are broadly shared, and on a healthy democracy that can sustain sound economic policies and prevent today’s economic winners from undermining the openness and dynamism of the economy.’

Or is the “break” between Labor and the Dems just petty bickering? From the Wall Street Journal:

Prominent labor leaders organized the rally in Philadelphia after what they said was their lack of input into planning for next month’s 2012 Democratic Convention in Charlotte, N.C., a state they call decidedly unfriendly to unions and their goals. Many are refusing to contribute money to a convention in a state that bans collective bargaining for teachers and other public workers.

Unions, long a key ally for Democrats, gave $8.3 million toward the 2008 convention in Denver that helped President Barack Obama win the White House, and officials say that longstanding friendship won’t change and nor will their support for Obama.

The presence of Democratic National Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz at the rally, and a recorded endorsement from Obama, certainly suggests that unions are hesitant to break out of their “junior partnership” with the Dems.

Nor is everybody so enthusiastic about the “Prosperity for All” plan, either:

[The plan] is misnamed: it is focused more on improving the lot of the middle class than that of ordinary working Americans. (To contrast with the wealthy, the manifesto uses the term “middle class,” not the more accurate ‘working class’ or ‘working Americans.’) And it relies too much on government spending…

But, back to Greider:

Organizers say Americans are hungry for liberal alternatives to the austerity agenda. People everywhere are tired of manipulative rhetoric. They want to hear serious proposals for how to restore prosperity and an equitable society.

Although even he has doubts:

[W]ill labor and other mediating organizations actually follow through with the plan? Can they establish enough distance from the Democrats and the White House to advance an effective pressure campaign? Skeptics doubt it. They recall earlier moments of crisis when similar declarations of independence were voiced but nothing much changed.

But insists:

This time is different, and for important reasons I think the results will be different too.
For one thing, the economic crisis has severely altered the political context…
[Second, ]Occupy…became a wake-up call for labor liberals. When people in the streets began shouting what the left had been too shy to broadcast forcefully, unions got a welcome jolt. Soon enough, they began shouting too…

A more realistic assessment might be that the AFL-CIO, after long giving lip-service to alliances with explicitly left political tendencies, might actually be willing to experiment with new mass organizing strategies.

In a recent executive memo, Richard Trumka wrote:

Let’s understand the scale of the problem. If we wanted just to add 1% in density, that would require organizing 1 million new members.

In the world we live in now, with organizing costs running close to $1,000 per member in the private sector, that would require $1 billion in organizing budgets. That should tell us something—that we need to think about resources for organizing comparable to what we devote to politics, and more importantly, that we need a movement environment, an environment where workers self-organize.

And later:

With these facts in mind, we have been pursuing four overall strategic responses.
[W]e have been seeking to support any effort by workers in any form to organize or to try and spark any kind of movement for social and economic fairness.

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2 Responses to Are the unions launching “a mass movement for economic justice”?

  1. john mineka says:

    Lets pull together!!

  2. john mineka says:

    Right on!

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