A Call for a Second Operation Dixie

by Douglas Williams and Cato Uticensis

TOperation_Dixiehere are no fortresses for labor; no metaphorical stone walls that we can shelter ourselves behind to try and ride out the onslaught. MaryBe McMillan, secretary-treasurer of the North Carolina AFL-CIO, said that we must “Organize the South or Die,” and she is absolutely correct. The fact of the matter is that without a deliberate, concerted effort to organize in the states of the old Confederacy, there will not be a labor movement worth speaking of within the next ten years, and all the gains for working people that brave men and women fought and bled and died for over the past century will be clawed back by rapacious corporate oligarchs bent on societal domination.

The notion that this is a crisis is massively underselling the problems facing labor, both organized and unorganized, right now. The destruction of PATCO, the air traffic controllers union, in 1981 was a crisis. The passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement through a unified Democratic federal government in 1993 was a crisis. The recent “Civil Wars in American Labor” between the Service Employees International Union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers, and UNITE HERE were a crisis. What the union movement faces right now is not a crisis, it is nothing less than a threat to the existence of unions in their present form, and with that comes a threat to the very basic minimums all workers in the United States can rely upon.

As we discussed in our previous piece, there is a cultural void in the South when it comes to labor. What we didn’t do is go into detail on why that is. There is a long and ignoble tradition in the South of active repression of workers organizing. Much of this tradition was exercised against the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in the largest unionization drive in the South to date: Operation Dixie.

Operation Dixie was conceived because of a problem that may sound familiar to many today: companies were shifting their operations from the heavily unionized North and Midwest to the South, where unionism had comparatively not taken hold. The predominant focus of the campaign was on the burgeoning textile industry in the South, which stretched largely from the Carolinas through Alabama, as well as the wood products industry. The CIO committed 250 organizers and around $1 million in 1946 (about $12 million in 2013) to set about attacking the largest firms and the most recalcitrant workers within those firms. The organizers came from across the industrial spectrum, and the citizens’ committees were surprisingly diverse for the times, including workers from across the racial barrier, religious leaders, and recent veterans of World War II. It was a campaign that held much promise, and a victory in Operation Dixie would go a long way towards building a powerful labor movement in every corner of America. However, while there were some successes in organizing tobacco workers and workers in other smaller industries, the effort to unionize the textile and wood products industries were largely dead by the end of 1946.

Continue reading

New Strategy at AFL-CIO or Same Ol’, Same Ol’?

by Wade Rathke

110105_afl_cio_ap_328New Orleans    I watched a brief interview for USA Today with Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, on the eve of their coming convention, as he argued that with the diminishing numbers, there were changes coming at the federation.   The changes he talked about mainly were some kind of broader affiliation program that was enrolling the NAACP and the Sierra Club.

Both groups have been allies of labor from time to time, and both to some degree are membership organizations with chapters around the country.  But, when Trumka was asked about whether they would be full members, pay dues, or affiliate on the local level, the answers were all, essentially, “maybe” or “we’ll have to see,” both of which are euphemisms for “no,” I’m pretty sure.  Continue reading

Will the AFL-CIO Restructure to Include Community Groups As Members?

On August 8, the radio show, ALTERNATIVE VISIONS, on the Progressive Radio Network, interviewed 3 long-time union officers and activists (Steve Early, Zach Robinson, Jim Moran) in Richmond, CA, Greenville, North Carolina, and Philadelphia respectively, about AFLCIO President, Richard Trumka’s, recent announcement that the AFLCIO, the major union federation in the US, was in discussions with national community organizations (the NAACP, La Raza, Sierra Club) to discuss allowing membership of community organizations directly into the AFL-CIO.  The decision on including community organizations as federation members is scheduled for consideration at the upcoming September 2013 convention of the AFL-CIO.

Continue reading

How Do We Create a Robust Movement for Working People? Here’s What You Said

For the past several months, the AFL-CIO has been asking you how we can create momentum around the commitment to building a stronger future for working people.

In mid July, we examined what people have been telling us in our in-person listening sessions and online. To date, more than 4,700 people attended in-person listening sessions, including four regional state federation and central labor councils and more than 950 comments were posted to www.aflcio2013.org.

Here are some highlights of those conversations: Continue reading

Why the Revival of US Labor Might Start with Nonunion Workers

The AFL-CIO’s community affiliate, Working America, is expanding its work online and off. Amy Dean talks with the group’s executive director, Karen Nussbaum, about what this means for the prospects of union revival.

     Organizers train with the Minnesota branch of Working America. Photo by Minnesota AFL-CIO.

Organizers train with the Minnesota branch of Working America. Photo by Minnesota AFL-CIO.

by Amy B. Dean

For workers in America, it can be hard to know where to turn when a boss pays you late or not at all, doesn’t provide benefits, or just yells at you for no good reason.

That’s why a Working America, a “community affiliate” of the AFL-CIO that focuses specifically on nonunion workers, launched a website last month that makes it easy to get that kind of information. FixMyJob.com is a bit like WebMD, but instead of typing in your aches and pains, you tell it about problems at your workplace. Launched on June 5, the site has already garnered 5,000 visitors, according to Working America organizer Chris Stergalas.

Continue reading

State of the Unions

by Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson

In late June, the Pew Research Center released the results of its biennial poll on unions and corporations, and reported that 51 percent of Americans had a favorable view of unions—up from just 41 percent in 2011, the last time Pew popped the question. Pew’s new number is almost identical to Gallup’s, which found that 52 percent of Americans approved of unions when it last asked that question in August of 2012. Gallup polls on union approval every year and has reported a 52 percent approval rating each of the past three years. Before then, union approval had hit an all-time low for Gallup surveys, with just 48 percent in 2009.

So unions are modestly, sorta, kinda back, in the public’s estimation. Back, that is, from the trough into which they fell during the first year of the recession, when their approval ratings toppled from the high-50s (Gallup) and the mid-50s (Pew) by ten points in each poll. The auto bailout of that year, and the constant drumbeat in much of the media that auto workers were being paid between $75,000 and $100,000 (in reality, the very best paid were pulling down $56,000, and there weren’t that many of them), looks to have done lasting damage to unions’ favorability ratings, which have stalled out about 5 percentage points beneath their pre-recession, pre-bailout peak. To be sure, some of that damage appears transient: Gallup’s 2009 poll was the only one in which a majority (51 percent) of respondents said that unions “mostly hurt the economy.” Some of the damage appears more lasting, however: In yearly polls from 1999 through 2008, the percentage of Americans who told Gallup that they wanted to see unions have less influence stayed between 28 and 32 percent. Since 2009, though, that percentage has ranged between 40 and 42 percent for four successive years. To be sure, the percentages of Americans who’ve wanted to see unions have more or “the same amount” of influence has always exceeded those who want them to have less, but as “the same amount” isn’t really very much, this is a cold comfort. Continue reading

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: Continue reading

Tell the AFL-CIO: How Can We Reverse the Trend of the Rich Getting Richer While Everyone Else Gets Less and Less?

by Jackie Tortora

Photo from the UC Berkeley blog: http://blogs.berkeley.edu/

Join Robert Reich on Thursday, June 20, noon–1 p.m. EDT for the seventh in the AFL-CIO series of live online discussions on how we build a movement for the future of working people. Reich, former secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton and Chancellor’s professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley—and the AFL-CIO—wants to hear your ideas on new ways the labor movement can change economic trends that hurt working people. He poses this question:

The rich keep getting a bigger share of the economic pie while everyone else’s share keeps shrinking. What should be done to reverse this trend?

You can go to the discussion page and give your thoughts now and be sure to come back for the live chat.

Your responses to the questions activists, educators, economists and journalists will be asking through June will help the AFL-CIO  prepare for the 2013 AFL-CIO Convention, which will focus on how we build a movement that can meet the needs of working people now and in the future.

Jackie Tortora is editor of the AFL-CIO Now blog where this post first appeared.

Building Fortresses or Tearing Down Walls? Thoughts on “Fortress Unionism”

by Street Heat

Rather than scaling back and holing up in our strongholds as advocated in Rich Yeselon’s “Fortress Unionism“, labor should be focused on tearing down the barriers obstructing workers ability to organize in whatever form that is.

Rather than curling up in the fetal position hoping to survive the body blows, labor should launch broad campaigns that employ tactics aimed at pushing back on or circumventing exclusion from the right to bargain a contract and employer intimidation.

“Fortress Unionism” gives readers a crash course on the history of labor’s decline from it’s explosive growth in the 30’s and the powerful upsurge of offensive strikes and organizing that ensued in the postwar period. Fear of labor’s power provoked a swift and unyielding push to pass the Taft-Hartley Act which provided the seeds of labor’s slide towards conservatism, capitulation to reactionary politics, stagnation and eventual decline. “Fortress Unionism’s other great strength is the sobriety with which Yeselson looks at labor’s dire straights and how deep and fundamentally existential this crisis is.

Continue reading

Can Unions Prevent Austerity from Killing Off the Middle Class?

ProsperityEconomics_2The AFL-CIO promises a wide-ranging and open discussion about the future of the labor movement at its convention in September.

With private-sector union representation approaching 5 percent of the labor force and public employee unions targeted by right-wing governors, the timing couldn’t be better.

Indeed, nowadays some union watchers are pronouncing the labor movement dead. Last year, union membership dropped by 400,000.

Will the convention truly mark the beginning of a turnaround for the labor federation? Let’s hope so.

“We’re going to open up our arms to people who want to join our movement,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, in an interview with C-SPAN earlier this year, pledging a new direction for labor. “Instead of saying to our community partners and the civil rights movement or the Latino movement, ‘That’s your issue and this is my issue,’ they’re going to be our issues, and we’re going to work together.” Continue reading