June 22, 2016

Spreading the labor cause

American Prospect

Rachel M Cohen - [The] idea of “bargaining for the common good”—and working in partnership with local allies—is not a new idea for labor unions, but its potential has never been fully realized, and past efforts have not gone deep enough. One major obstacle has been that labor law tries to limit unions to bargaining just over issues of wages and benefits.

“Unions have been significantly hobbled by the legal regime, and a lack of imagination to challenge it,” says Stephen Lerner, a longtime labor organizer.

But now, partly because of the historic action the Chicago Teachers Union took in 2012, when its members went on strike not just for themselves, but also for increased public services for the broader community, more and more unions have started to reconsider their fundamental roles and responsibilities. By expanding their bargaining demands beyond wages and benefits, unions are recognizing that they can more fully support, and engage their community partners—and get those community groups to support them in return.

“I think there’s a growing feeling that if you operate within the confines of the law, you restrict the things that potentially give you power,” says Lerner. “We have to be willing to go beyond what the law allows.”

In 2014, leaders from public sector unions and community organizations gathered at Georgetown University for a national conference, entitled “Bargaining for the Common Good,” aimed at charting this new path forward. Writing in Dissent, Joseph A. McCartin, the director of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown, said that three distinct priorities emerged from the proceedings: using the bargaining process as a way to challenge the relationships between government and the private-sector; working with community allies to create new, shared goals that help advance both worker and citizen power; and recognizing militancy and collective action will likely be necessary if workers and citizens are to reduce inequality and strengthen democracy.

The time had come, in sum, to politicize bargaining.

A burst of activity followed the Georgetown conference. “It’s been amazing to see how many unions, community groups, and people have adopted the ‘bargaining for common good’ frame and language,” says Lerner.

This past December in Minneapolis, a coalition of unions and community groups brought 2,000 people together to craft a collective agenda for social justice. “Participants highlighted the immense control wielded by a dozen huge corporations, including U.S. Bank, Target, and Wells Fargo, over Minnesota’s economy,” wrote McCartin, and “agreed to collaborate on an array of interlocking campaigns and direct actions in 2016.” Since then, the groups have already successfully pushed for paid sick leave in Minneapolis, and similar ordinances are on the horizon in Saint Paul and Duluth. Groups that can endorse candidates are also working together “with an eye toward building independent political power and wielding greater influence in state elections,” says Dan McGrath of TakeAction Minnesota.



Anonymous said...

Since when are unions limited to bargain only over wages and benefits? work rules and safety issues are contract issues also. While this new attitude on the part of labor is a hopeful sign the reality is private sector unions are weaker than they have been any time since the Great Depression. So this is all probably too little too late. And is another reason why we should all curse the generations of conservative, ignorant, anticommunist-inspired business unionist leaders that stood by meekly watching their movement be decimated by bipartisan neoliberal politicians while they enjoyed ridiculously inflated salaries and pensions paid for by their members. American labor needs to clean its own house of corrupt bureaucrats. I recall being asked to leave a meeting organizing support for striking paper mill workers because as someone working in a non-union business (a private not for profit social service agency) I "wasn't labor". Of course the strike was lost, the union broken and the work shipped to a lower wage non-union factory in the Deep South. THis was in 1988. Ronald Reagan's greatest allies in the attack on labor rights was the leadership of the AFL-CIO

greg gerritt said...

I am hoping , without much hope, that the construction unions start to absorb some of this message. Right now they are pushing to build anything they can, even if communities are totally against the project and it would worsen climate change. They undercut their support in the community by continuing to support the corporados against communities. And it will catch up to them.