What does the American labor movement need to overcome our years of decline?
Those were the main suggestion of our North Texas Jobs with Justice July 10 "Listening Session." Our video is on YouTube
The AFL-CIO says: "This September, the AFL-CIO—the federation uniting more than 12 million working men and women—will convene in Los Angeles to discuss the future for America’s workers and our movement. Delegates representing working families from all over the country will be prepared to make big decisions about new ways to help working people gain a voice—new forms of representation for workers, new approaches to politics and the global economy, new community partnerships and more.
These conversations can’t take place in a vacuum. To ensure an informed and spirited discussion, America’s unions are launching an open, inclusive process to solicit and share ideas to inform decision making at the AFL-CIO Convention." Full instructions are at http://www.aflcio.org/content/download/86711/2339581/YW+Listening+Session+Toolkit.pdf
The North Texas Jobs with Justice session began with a short talk "Things the labor movement did right" by history instructor Max Krochmal from Texas Christian University.
Krochmal gave three outstanding Texas examples:
In all three historical episodes, it was clear that commitment to civil rights was the key to success. In the question-and-answer session, Krochmal gave the opinion that today's struggle over the rights of immigrants presents the same kind of divisions that hampered our earlier labor movement. Today's unions have the opportunity for success if they can bridge that big divisive problem. Other suggestions were the LBGT movement, environmental fights, and the broad pro-democracy movement.
The activists in our discussion represented several different backgrounds, but were all committed to strengthening the progressive movement. Here are some of the arguments presented:
The group from "Restore the Fourth," an anti-spying and pro-democracy group, said that someone had been fired for having attended their rally in Dallas on July 4th. We then talked about other workers who have been unfairly penalized. That led us to the idea of a nationwide worker defense project. Although we didn't know details, we were aware that the International Labor Defense had functioned in America during the 1920s and 1930s. It might be a model for future work.
Our group had nothing but praise for the technological outreach work that the national AFL-CIO is doing. Working America was particularly praised. The patchwork of local and regional hi-tech work, though, is not nearly as good. The problem is probably one of training, but we felt the training would be most effective if it actually took place at local and regional centers. Local unions could be using podcasting, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Reddit, texting, and newer developments to make our campaigns and organizing drives really work!
Our group was pleased to learn that the AFL-CIO conducts a national labor college and that various unions hold educational events for their members. But what labor-driven educational experiences are actually available for the public at large? Pioneering work is being done with on-line schools. It would be a low-cost effort with a lot of promise.
The AFL-CIO already sponsors the Alliance for Retired Americans and excellent work is being done. The United Auto Workers holds monthly meetings for all retirees at virtually every local. The Steelworkers and Communications Workers also have good programs, but many union locals barely keep track of their retirees. The labor movement should try to organize all union retirees and use those centers to reach out to every senior in America.
AFL-CIO "listening sessions" are continuing until the September AFL-CIO convention in Los Angeles. Anybody can sponsor one. UAW 848 retirees held a their own session on July 11. The Texas AFL-CIO convention at the Sheraton Hotel on Hiway 114 in Irving July 18-20 will hold several sessions. Guests are invited to attend the convention and the listening sessions but they have to register in advance at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The AFL-CIO is giving all activists an historic opportunity. Let's dive into it!