On this 125th Labor Day, there’s good news for our side:
The statistics recently shared by the AFL-CIO are pretty good:
- 48% of unorganized Americans would join a union if they could. If you add the ones that already have a union, we’re a majority!
- 262,000 new members joined last year
- Union approval is at 62%, an all-time high
And you can add some local things that are impressive:
- The Dallas Labor Day Breakfast has already sold more tickets than ever
- The Dallas AFL-CIO has more staff and more participation than I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been watching for a long, long time
- The Dallas AFL-CIO is playing a central role in several critical coalitions
- My own local union has about 375 new members!
Look at the Trend
To really understand anything, don’t just look at what it is. Look at what it was, and look at what it is becoming. If you go back to the period between 1947 and 1995, you’ll see an American labor movement that was conservative, timid, and isolated. It was also losing two-thirds of its membership and most of its political clout.
The ice began to break in 1987 when five of the more progressive industrial unions formed Jobs with Justice to consolidate the movement and take new initiatives. In 1992, as part of Jobs with Justice, I attended a special conference on low-wage workers. In 1995, for the first time in 100 years, there was a disruption in the succession of leadership. The outgoing leaders of the AFL-CIO did not get to pick their own successors.
After 1995, things really began to happen. In 1997, they removed the anti-communist clause from their constitution and started trying to work with more people. In 1999, they stopped calling for deportations of immigrants and committed themselves to organizing everybody that works. Since then they’ve greatly improved their outreach to women, to minorities, to gays, to environmentalists, to retirees, to workers in other nations, and anybody else that might help American working people.
And through that period, from 1995 to now, the progressive leadership from the top has sifted down into the affiliated unions, the Central Labor Councils, the rank and file, and the many other kinds of organizations that can make up a united progressive movement.
We’re Not Done
There’s a lot more to do. Way to many union members still think of themselves as superior because they have better jobs than ordinary Americans. Way too many ordinary Americans still think that the labor movement doesn’t share their interests. Way too many people don’t see the crisis we’re in and don’t see that organizing is the only way out of it. Way too many old habits persist.
But if you think of employers and employees as two different sides of a war, and if you realize that you belong on the employee side, you begin to appreciate the fact that our side is better informed and better organized than ever in American history. The employer side may have the option of destroying the world, that may be in their power to do.
But defeating our side is not one of their options.