“Forward for Labor?”

As Joe Biden’s victory sinks into the American consciousness, the AFL-CIO is calling for moving forward together. But what does it mean?

We can be sure what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean continuing slogging along with our age-old organizing efforts in one workplace at a time. Nothing exposes organizing failure more than the continuing decline of union density. It doesn’t mean hesitating at the threshold of solidarity with our natural allies. It doesn’t mean putting our entire political faith and trust in the Democratic Party.

The AFL-CIO has made terrific progress since the leadership election of 1995. They staunched the bleeding that brought our labor movement from 35% density to 11%. But they are going to have to do more, and some of that “more” may seem drastic. The obvious steps are these:

Organize nationwide:

Unlike the old CIO, the AFL and the AFL-CIO never had an effective organizing department. They need one. The new forward-thinking Organizing Department could set the goal of organizing every worker by adding an on-line strategy. It would be easy to do, since the AFL-CIO already has Working America as a separate department. Working America could replicate the nationwide success model pioneered by Move On. From a giant data base of on-line supporters, some traditional union locals could be formed. The members who can’t be formed into traditional unions can still be supportive of labor’s campaigns.

Go all the way with solidarity:

America has many progressive organizations from giants like the NAACP down to the smallest non-profit working from a one-year grant. Most, if not all of them could be induced to cooperate in nationwide campaigns led by labor. To be sure, the AFL-CIO leadership has improved tremendously since the days that the Central Intelligence Agency was their main partner. But much remains to be done. In the Summer of 2020, the labor movement held terrific May Day events. They made positive statements in support of Black Lives Matter, even though at the same time they clung to police unions – the very antithesis of the movement. We can go much further with simple solidarity!

Initiate a Workers Party:

We didn’t need the awful shock therapy of Donald Trump’s election to realize that American voters are done with business-as-usual politics. It was apparent in 2008 when the first Black President swept to power. By 2020, when a run-of-the-mill Democrat named Biden was elected with the shortest coat tails in history, everyone knew that American voters want something different. Trump’s 2016 election showed that they were ready for ANYTHING different.

What If we don’t?:

If American labor and rest of the progressive movement do not come together affirmatively, we can expect continued chaos and stagnation. No one with an idea of the problems we face thinks Joe Biden will solve them. The union movement’s slow “death of a thousand cuts” will continue. The progressive movement will continue to mill around and compete for funding without a program. The Democrats will lose more ground in the 2022 mid-term elections. More oddball candidates will win elections, not because they represent anything better, but because they represent ANYTHING different! The ultimate “something different,” fascism, will continue its rise in America.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” radio talk show at 9AM Central Time every Saturday. We podcast the program and additional “Workers Beat Extra” Wednesdays on Soundcloud.com. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

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