Ten Things We Liked About the Labor Movement in 2010

By Stuart Elliott

Mary Kay Henry

1. NEW LEADERSHIP IN SEIU AND UAW. We welcome the elections of Mary Kay Henry and Bob King to the presidency of the SEIU and UAW, respectively. The election of a woman to the top role in the nation’s largest union illustrates the growing role of women in the leadership of the labor movement. Under the new leaders SEIU quickly settled its debilitating raid on UNITE HERE, and both SEIU and UAW mobilized their memberships for the One Nation Working Together rally in Washington.

2. THE ONE NATION WORKING TOGETHER RALLY: Numerous unions mobilized their East Coast memberships to participate in the October 2 rally in Washington, D.C. The result was a solid tribute to the racial and cultural diversity of the U.S. labor movement.

3. LABOURSTART, the international labor news and campaigning site, is run on a shoestring and powered by nearly 800 volunteer correspondents. Every day the site publishes links to labor news in 23 different languages, and its news feeds appear on more than 800 union websites. It conducts e-mail campaigns in eight different languages. It can be found at http://www.labourstart.org.

In 2010, LabourStart held its first public international solidarity conference in Hamilton, Canada. The conference attracted over 200 participants from more than 28 countries, including national union presidents, representatives of Global Union Federations, local union officers, staffers and grassroots activists. We also like UnionBook, a LabourStart project to create an ad-free, non-corporate alternative to Facebook.

4. LABOR BLOGS AND MAGAZINES: Among the growing universe of labor blogs, two of our favorites are the AFL-CIO Now Blog and Working In These TimesLabor Notes and The American Prospect, which published an excellent special report on labor globalism, provide commentary from different points of view on the Left.

5. ORGANIZING THE UNEMPLOYED: As unemployment rose to 10 percent, several organizations had the foresight to realize that the job crisis was not going to go away quickly. The International Association of Machinists launched UCubed. Working America and the AFL-CIO set up the Unemployment Lifeline. Jobs with Justice in Portland, Chicago and a number of other cities began projects to organize the unemployed. Interfaith Worker Justice and the National Employment Law Project are also working with churches and immigrants. The grassroots Unemployed Workers Action Group has taken up the banner for the 99ers, using on-line tools, work with mainstream media, and an August Wall Street demonstration.

6. LABOR-NETROOTS ALLIANCE: Unions were heavily involved in Netroots Nation, the annual in-person conference organized by leading progressive bloggers. The AFL-CIO and SEIU are major sponsors. They had exhibit booths along with AFSCME, AFT, Laborers, UFCW, and Working America.

Most keynote sessions included a speaker from labor, including AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. The SEIU’s Eliso Medina was a major speaker on immigration. Most blocks of issue workshops included a labor theme – from the need to restore the manufacturing sector to organizing young workers.

Many grassroots unionists either came on their own or got their locals to send them, not an easy task when union budgets are strained. One of us met an ironworker from Chicago, a bricklayer from Las Vegas, SEIU members from Ohio and Las Vegas, an IBEW member from Baltimore, and a whole variety of folks from California.

liz shuler with young trade unionists

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler with young trade unionists

7. OUTREACH TO YOUNG WORKERS: AFL-CIO Secretary Liz Shuler, the youngest national officer in the history of the labor federation, has spearheaded an exciting outreach to young workers. She has encouraged and listened to the Young Trade Unionists in Baltimore,Young Workers United in the Bay area, and the Student Labor Action Project. She moderated a panel on young workers at the 2010 Netroots Nation. In June, 400 young people gathered at the Next Up conference, the AFL-CIO’s first-ever Young Workers Summit, developed a game plan for the future that focuses on making sure young union leaders and activists are taken seriously and their ideas are heard at all levels of the labor movement. The young workers also called for:

• Organizing a Next Up constituency group.
• Holding a national youth summit each year.
• Opening up seats for the Next Up generation on national, state federation and central local body boards.

8. STUDENTS: Students Against Sweatshops launched a campaign that forced Nike to pay $1.5 million severance to workers in Honduran subcontractors. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, with the support of students, won important victories for Florida tomato pickers. In the Dominican Republic Knights Apparel opened up a unionized factory paying workers a living wage, making Alta Gracia apparel for American campus shops. Tying it all together is the continuing excellent work of the Student Labor Action Project.

9. LABOR IN THE 2010 ELECTIONS: While several parts of the Democratic Party coalition stayed home on Election Day, labor’s efforts to limit Republican gains and to make jobs the number one issue was substantial and made a difference in several key races.

According to the AFL-CIO, 200,000 union members volunteered in Labor 2010. They distributed 19.4 million fliers while talking with workers at the job site They made millions of phone calls and knocked on 8.5 million doors. And Working America, the AFL-CIO community affiliate, also worked in more than 80 electoral races around the country, knocking on nearly 800,000 doors and making half a million phone calls.

“I couldn’t be prouder of what we all did together,” AFL-CIO President Trumka said.

SEIU and other unions outside the AFL-CIO carried out parallel mobilizations.

The labor-aligned Working Families Party successfully expanded its fusion, cross-endorsing strategy from New York to Connecticut and Oregon, providing the margin of victory for Connecticut Governor and several other key races.

10. CHINESE WORKERS: Young migrant workers carried out a series of strikes in the auto parts industry in China, winning significant wage increases and agreement to demands for the election of local union officers. Their disciplined and strategic actions forced the state-controlled Chinese trade union bureaucracy and governmental authorities to propose substantive reforms in labor practices.

This is an article for the special labor Winter 2010 issue of Democratic Left, the newsletter of Democratic Socialists of America. You can download the entire issue or individual articles. Better yet, join DSA and get Democratic Left in the mail.

Stuart Elliott is an editor of Talking Union.

One Response

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