The Root of Labor’s Crisis Lies in the Private Sector

by Joe Burns

Joe Burns

The reelection of Governor Scott Walker merely confirmed what trade unionists should already understand—labor’s current strategies have little chance of success. In the post election soul-searching, labor analysts have questioned the turn towards Democratic party politics, the influence of corporate money in the elections, and the demobilization of 2011 Wisconsin uprising. Doug Henwood in a far-reaching critique worth reading zeroed in on the narrowness of unions under the modern system of collective bargaining.

All of these factors are important and worthy of discussion. The crisis of public employee unionism, however, runs much deeper. Winning the Wisconsin recall could perhaps have helped slowed the decline of public unionism, but the crisis of public employee unionism cannot be solved at the ballot box. Confronting labor’s crisis requires a reexamination of key elements of trade union strategy.

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Reviving the Strike: A Review

By Carl Finamore

A new book by labor attorney and veteran union negotiator Joe Burns, Reviving the Strike – How Working People Can Regain Power And Transform America, is a valuable contribution to resurrecting fundamental lessons from the neglected history of American labor.
As the title suggests and as he emphasized to me, “the only way we can revive the labor movement is to revive a strike based on the traditional tactics of the labor movement.”

But he doesn’t stop there. The author reviews for the reader the full range of tactics and strategy during the exciting, turbulent and often violent history of American labor.Refreshingly, he also provides critical assessments normally avoided by labor analysts of a whole series of union tactics that have grown enormously popular over the last several decades.

For example, he examines and reviews the mixed results of boycotts, temporary strikes of very short duration and corporate campaigns. Even organizing the unorganized membership drives come under his scrutiny for a bit of criticism, especially when they are mistakenly cast as the main formula for reversing labor’s rapid descent.

Membership will only increase, Burns believes, once labor adopts a more militant strategy, outlined in the book, which successfully leads to substantial economic gains for workers.

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