We're starting the new year with a headline riddle that will haunt us
until it is frankly and convincingly solved. If we don't find real answers
to this paradox, we'll never rebuild the labor movement, no matter how many
more millions we pour into organizing campaigns or how many new organizers
Why shouldn't workers want to join unions? They can earn higher pay.
The benefits are usually better, especially on health insurance and
pensions. They have the protection of an organization that is dedicated to
improving their lives through legislation and collective bargaining. They
don't have to be at the complete mercy of the boss. No question: belonging
to a union is a good deal.
So why aren't workers joining in big numbers? What's bothering them
about today's unions? Why are labor's organizing messages to them not
resonating? Surely, we ought to get some answers, or at least some clues,
from the hundreds of organizers around the country, who spend year after
year trying to persuade them to become union members.
The problem is that we're getting too few answers from our organizers.
Their candid views about organizing failures are rarely made public. They
talk only to their superiors, most of whom have never led an organizing
campaign. It's rare that they have anything sensible to say on those
infrequent occasions when they express their views on the subject. They are
reluctant when it comes to self-criticism, which could put their jobs in
Consider the number of conferences, seminars and workshops that are
held each year on organizing. Imagine the cost of the tons of materials on
organizing that are published by unions. Think of all the training programs
and classes conducted by unions and labor educators. And what about the
high-level discussions of organizing strategy that occupy the attention of
top labor leaders and delegates at conventions and elsewhere?
What has been the payoff for this colossal expenditure of money, time,
resources and effort? The results speak for themselves. Unions still
represent barely eight percent of the workers in the private sector.
American labor has the lowest density rate, compared with every major
industrialized nation and many of the developing ones. And we are shrinking
in size and economic power.
Labor's Survival Requires New Organizing Strategies
Before we decide on new approaches to organizing, we ought to have a
thorough review of current strategies and why they have failed to produce
many major victories. We will examine the attitude of top labor leaders in
both the AFL-CIO and Change to Win toward recruiting new members and the
training they provide their organizers. We will analyze the content of
labor's organizing messages to determine how they can have a better appeal
to unorganized workers.
When we have completed this essential research, we shall unveil an
entirely new approach to organizing that eliminates many of the risks and
contributes to the opportunities for success.
We welcome participation by labor leaders and activists, whose
knowledge and experience about organizing can be very helpful.
Our next LaborTalk weekly column, which will be posted here on
Monday, January 9, will have much to say about labor's strategy for
Happy New Year.
Our weekly column, "The World of Labor," reports the
struggles and victories of unions in countries around the globe. Check our
web site: www.LaborEducator.org.