Future of Working People? Trumka Says AFL-CIO Is Still Listening

by Richard Trumka

Richard Trumka What kind of movement do working people need to build a better future? What changes should labor make? Those are some of the questions I posed to you two months ago—and Daily Kos readers and progressives everywhere have offered all kinds of ideas. We’d like to hear more—even your off-the-wall ideas. Please share your thoughts by commenting on this post or go to AFLCIO2013.org. We’re still listening. Already, at in-person gatherings as well as online, we’ve heard from more than 5,600 people—union members, activists, allies, academics and others.

We’ve been poring through those ideas and recommendations to identify common threads to take to the AFL-CIO Convention in September. Here are a few of the big topics that have emerged:

It’s time to enable more people to be part of the labor movement and create new models of worker representation.

Except for those at the very top, people who work for a living have not been able to get ahead. Many working men and women want to come together to change that, but they cannot become part of the labor movement as it exists today. The proposal is to open membership to anyone who wants to join and build a dynamic new workers’ movement—one that working men and women can join without having to go through the trial by fire of an NLRB election. Although we know collective bargaining is the proven way for workers to build power at work, some new forms of membership for some workers may not include collective bargaining rights—at least initially.

That may mean changing the structure of unions.

Bringing more people into the movement and enabling more workers to mobilize together may require changing the structure of unions and the union movement. We need to be inclusive of “independent contractors” and others who don’t have a typical employer-employee relationship.

Keep becoming more independent of the Democratic Party.

This is a theme that’s come up again and again—the labor movement should be investing more in our own effectiveness and less in the party, and holding fickle elected officials of all parties accountable for their votes on working family issues. At the same time, all progressives need to be working to reverse Citizens United, to put politics back in the hands of the people rather than the richest special interests.

Educate! Communicate!

Here’s another common theme best voiced by two participants:

  • “The face of union labor in the media is this big greedy bully who pushes a button for $40/hour at the expense of minimum wage workers and business owners everywhere….The public needs some serious re-education. Especially on the connection between workers’ rights, income inequality and social ills that affect everyone.”
  • “Unions…have been negatively defined by their enemies and have done little to fight back. A strong and sustained public outreach effort needs to be organized where the benefits of unions to society are strongly promoted on a regular and ongoing basis.”

Hold corporate CEOs accountable.

 Defund the right wing. “Name and shame” bad companies. Become as adept at taking on finance capital as we’ve been in the past at standing up to those who control manufacturing….These are just some of the recommendations we’ve heard.

Shape new types of community engagement.

Unions have to build real and durable partnerships. Working together in communities for good learning conditions for students and good working conditions for teachers, for example, can build stable, sustainable communities with benefits for all. We have to tear down the silos built over generations and redefine labor-community solidarity in a way that works for everybody and can change communities for the better.

Will you add your voice and your thoughts to the mix? Share your ideas by commenting here or go to AFLCIO2013.org. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

Richard Trumka is President of the AFL-CIO.  Significantly, this post was originally cross-posted on Daily Kos and the AFL-CIO  Now blog.

One Response

  1. So, Richard Trumka, where is my D-man?

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