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Solidarity Divided

Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice, A new direction for labor by two of its leading activist intellectuals

Bill Fletcher
Fernando Gapasin
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Pages: 324
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pp43c
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  • Book Info
    Solidarity Divided
    Book Description:

    The U.S. trade union movement finds itself today on a global battlefield filled with landmines and littered with the bodies of various social movements and struggles. Candid, incisive, and accessible,Solidarity Dividedis a critical examination of labor's current crisis and a plan for a bold new way forward into the twenty-first century. Bill Fletcher and Fernando Gapasin, two longtime union insiders whose experiences as activists of color grant them a unique vantage on the problems now facing U.S. labor, offer a remarkable mix of vivid history and probing analysis. They chart changes in U.S. manufacturing, examine the onslaught of globalization, consider the influence of the environment on labor, and provide the first broad analysis of the fallout from the 2000 and 2004 elections on the U.S. labor movement. Ultimately calling for a wide-ranging reexamination of the ideological and structural underpinnings of today's labor movement, this is essential reading for understanding how the battle for social justice can be fought and won.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93474-0
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE: Revelations in South Africa
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Fernando Gapasin and Bill Fletcher Jr.
  4. INTRODUCTION: CHANGE TO WIN AND THE SPLIT IN THE AFL-CIO
    (pp. 1-6)

    JULY 2005, CHICAGO, ILLINOIS. Until the Sunday preceding the Monday (July 25) opening of the AFL-CIO Convention, many insiders, despite the heated rhetoric reflected in the media, believed that the two key factions would broker a deal to prevent a split in the AFL-CIO. Though the language had become increasingly incendiary over the previous eighteen months, backroom discussions had been taking place to construct an acceptable, face-saving rapprochement between the forces aligned with AFL-CIO president John Sweeney and those leading the newly formed Change to Win coalition—which included the Service Employees International Union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, UNITE...

  5. PART ONE CHALLENGES FACING THE U.S. LABOR MOVEMENT

    • CHAPTER 1 DUKIN’ IT OUT: Building the Labor Movement
      (pp. 9-17)

      Today’s U.S. union movement is the product of relentless struggle between workers and employers. The strategies that the capitalist class has adopted to rid itself of the union movement have changed over time, but never the ultimate goal of leaving the working class unionless and defenseless.

      When we think about capitalism, we usually think about competition between businesses, with one corporation trying to take market share and profits from the others. But capitalism also creates another form of competition: competition between workers to win and keep jobs and to secure other resources. Because of the fundamental imbalance in power and...

    • CHAPTER 2 THE NEW DEAL
      (pp. 18-25)

      The labor movement of Samuel Gompers and Eugene Debs at the end of the nineteenth century confronted employers who were transforming the economy from a laissez-faire operation to one dominated by trusts and monopolies. Business interests were moving away from the railroad “pools” of Jay Gould to John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil and Andrew Carnegie’s U.S. Steel. In response to the abuses of these powerful new national corporations, Populism developed in the 1890s out of farmers’ alliances and farmer-worker alliances in the Midwest, West, and South. Populists advocated an increase in the money supply, greater government regulation of business, and...

    • CHAPTER 3 THE COLD WAR ON LABOR
      (pp. 26-31)

      Following World War II, the architects of U.S. policy resolved that the wartime alliance with the Soviet Union had to end and that the political Left and progressive movements had to be rolled back domestically. The Cold War became the instrument for carrying out this program, but it is worth noting—particularly in light of the neoliberal offensive beginning in the 1970s—that the attack on the Left and progressive movements was largely a political attack rather than an economic one. The living standard of the average U.S. worker continued to rise even while many of the vanguard forces fighting...

    • CHAPTER 4 THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENTS, THE LEFT, AND LABOR
      (pp. 32-38)

      The post-1955 period is often mischaracterized as a dormant period for labor organizing. Contrary to a view that gained some prominence during the early 1990s, organizing continued after the merger that created the AFL-CIO. It was different from the organizing of the 1930s and the Left-led organizing following World War II largely in its scale and character. Post-1955 organizing generally lacked the dynamism, strategic focus, and social movement “feel” of the earlier period, in no small part because efforts in the 1950s lacked the leadership and energy of the Left.¹

      Despite the crushing defeat of the Left and the dominance...

  6. PART TWO THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE TELEVISED

    • CHAPTER 5 WHOSE WELFARE MATTERS, ANYWAY?
      (pp. 41-48)

      To make sense of the crisis that faced trade unionism in the Global North beginning in the 1970s, we must understand the economic shift that undermined the welfare state in the advanced capitalist West.¹ The economic stagnation that afflicted the United States by the early 1970s was the result of many factors, including the cyclical end of the long postwar boom, the Vietnam War, competition from other capitalist states like West Germany and Japan, and domestic class struggle that put pressure on corporate profits. Within Western Europe, the verdict on capitalism was far from clear. Britain had gone into a...

    • CHAPTER 6 WHAT’S LEFT FOR US?
      (pp. 49-58)

      Elements of the Old Left and the New Left, from a variety of traditions, participated in the caucus movements of the late 1960s and 1970s. Without the institutional base the Left had enjoyed before the purges of the late 1940s, it lacked power. But in some unions, the Left was able to maintain a presence. In the UAW, with its history of caucuses, some thirty or more leftist or left-leaning caucuses functioned in plants throughout the United States. At the UAW conventions in the 1970s, Left-influenced delegates numbered between two hundred and three hundred. In 1977, a coalition of pragmatists...

    • CHAPTER 7 ORGANIZING TO ORGANIZE THE UNORGANIZED
      (pp. 59-66)

      In the main, the reform movements that developed in unions dissipated in the late 1970s and 1980s as a result of internal union repression and the restructuring of U.S. corporations, particularly the deconstruction of U.S. industrial centers in auto, steel, and related industries. Movements that had been largely supported by this industrial base of workers, such as the Black Freedom Movement and the Chicano Movement, were also weakened.

      As jobs in high-wage manufacturing were downsized, relocated to nonunion locations, or shipped overseas and as the U.S. economy shifted toward service and low-paying jobs, many leftists were eliminated from the industrial...

  7. PART THREE SWEENEY’S GRAND GESTURE

    • CHAPTER 8 THE NEW VOICE COALITION TAKES OFFICE
      (pp. 69-82)

      The 1994 Republican congressional victories were the final straw for many of the affiliate presidents within the AFL-CIO. Had the Cold War not ended a few years earlier, the affiliates’ frustration might not have resulted in an insurgency. Nevertheless, the AFL-CIO showed no indication that it was prepared to face the realities of the deteriorating political and economic situation for organized labor and to project a new message, let alone a new practice.

      Amid this frustration, a demand for change arose from various affiliates. SEIU president John Sweeney emerged as the leader and chief spokesperson for this initiative. Many people...

    • CHAPTER 9 DEVELOPING STRATEGY IN TIMES OF CHANGE
      (pp. 83-90)

      The Sweeney reform program encountered numerous problems in its efforts to define and carry out strategies that would garner the support of the AFL-CIO membership. These problems, many of which stemmed from changes in the wider economy, were not unique to the AFL-CIO, however; they haunted the entire union movement.

      Labor progressives and reformers have for years discussed the importance of organizing the South and the Southwest, certainly since the failure of Operation Dixie in the early 1950s. Section 14(b) of the National Labor Relations Act, which gives states the ability to adopt so-called right-to-work laws, has always been an...

    • CHAPTER 10 GLOBALIZATION: The Biggest Strategic Challenge
      (pp. 91-99)

      The ongoing process of globalization has enormous implications for the union movement and the working class. In devising strategies to cope with globalization, unions must contend with three definitions of the term, each of which calls for a different strategy.

      Version 1. Globalization is the development of a global economy in which everything is interconnected. Thus, national economies and the nation-state are losing their significance. Globalization is inevitable, and no way exists to stop it.

      Version 2. Globalization is a new stage in economic and social relations. Along with the development of a global economy, a transnational capitalist class has...

    • CHAPTER 11 COULD’A, WOULD’A, SHOULD’A: Central Labor Councils and Missed Opportunities
      (pp. 100-113)

      Before the victory of the New Voice slate in October 1995, many unionists and scholars believed that central labor councils were moribund remnants of labor history. This view prevailed because of the dominance of national and international unions in the U.S. union movement and George Meany’s complete neglect of these local adjuncts to the AFL-CIO. In addition, because local unions were not required to affiliate with the councils, most CLCs lacked the resources to function effectively. National unions replaced central labor bodies as the primary institutions in the union movement at the AFL convention in 1891. That convention established the...

    • CHAPTER 12 INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS, GLOBALIZATION, AND 9/11
      (pp. 114-120)

      In international affairs, the high point of the Sweeney administration was John Sweeney’s appearance before a plenary of the World Congress of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) during April 2000 in Durban, South Africa. By then, the AFL-CIO had taken major steps away from Cold War trade unionism by appointing a progressive international affairs director, consolidating AFL-CIO–sponsored international labor institutes into the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, and opening or strengthening relations with certain key Left-led national labor centers. Thus, the organization was not only changing its image but was actually gaining some favor with...

  8. PART FOUR WHEN SILENCE ISN’T GOLDEN

    • CHAPTER 13 RESTLESSNESS IN THE RANKS
      (pp. 123-130)

      Perhaps one of the greatest ironies of the circumstances leading up to the split in the AFL-CIO, a split led by the Service Employees International Union, was that during most of John Sweeney’s tenure as AFL-CIO president, many of the affiliates viewed the AFL-CIO as the “AFL-SEIU.” This characterization was the result of several factors. Obviously, Sweeney, having come from SEIU, was a source of suspicion among the pro-Donahue forces, and any action he took was the subject of caricature. Nonetheless, real issues were at stake, though interpretations of them differed.

      Sweeney brought with him to the AFL-CIO three key...

    • CHAPTER 14 CHANGE TO WIN: A Return to Gompers?
      (pp. 131-146)

      We get a sense of back to the future when we read some of the notions that passed for new ideas in the AFL-CIO’s debate. Indeed, beneath the surface, we see the ideas of both Samuel Gompers and Walter Reuther.

      When we look at the four solutions proposed by SEIU, and later by the New Unity Partnership and Change to Win, several points come to mind. First, no fundamental differences—at least no split-worthy differences—exist in the union movement about the issues in question: consolidation, core jurisdiction, pragmatic international solidarity, and political flexibility. Second, the people presenting these concepts...

    • CHAPTER 15 ANGER, COMPROMISE, AND THE PARALYSIS OF THE SWEENEY COALITION
      (pp. 147-151)

      In the period leading to the split, the Sweeney coalition seemed to be playing a constant game of catch-up with Change to Win. Yet no one in either group attempted to transform the limited framework in which both sides were caught. In considering the Sweeney response to the CTW challenge, one needs to examine the tactical situation as well as the theoretical and programmatic response.¹ Tactically, the Sweeney team was on the defensive from the beginning: at no point in the debate or during the split was it able to gain the initiative. In the opening moments of the struggle,...

    • CHAPTER 16 LEFT BEHIND
      (pp. 152-162)

      One cannot discuss the unfortunate lack of debate and the split in the AFL-CIO without focusing some attention on who wasnotincluded. Within the staffs and top leadership of at least several of the Change to Win unions, an internal discussion, if not debate, had taken place for some years about the nature and scope of organizing, the role of a national labor federation, forms of political action, and the structure of the union movement. This debate had not spread to the base in any significant manner. Although the rank-and-file members did read or hear presentations about discussions at...

  9. PART FIVE THE WAY FORWARD:: SOCIAL JUSTICE UNIONISM

    • CHAPTER 17 THE NEED FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE UNIONISM
      (pp. 165-185)

      In many respects, the U.S. trade union movement is akin to a tire with a slow leak. You can walk out to the car in the morning, notice that the tire is low, and go to a gas station to add some air. All day the tire may look fine, but overnight it loses air and is low again the next morning. If it is not actually flat, you may decide to refill it and keep driving. Then one day the tire has a blowout, destroying, in one catastrophic moment, not only the tire but potentially the car and driver...

    • CHAPTER 18 THE NEED FOR A GLOBAL OUTLOOK
      (pp. 186-196)

      Transformation will occur when the labor movement thinks and acts both globally and locally. All of the data available indicate that unionization provides the most consistent means for workers to improve their economic welfare.¹ But what about the rest of the workers, the majority of working people (now 88 percent) who do not have unions? The union movement succeeded in the past because unions were able to manifest the aspirations and hopes of most working people and consequently earned the mass support of working-class communities. Unions were “schools of democracy” in which working people could learn how to build their...

    • CHAPTER 19 REALIZING SOCIAL JUSTICE UNIONISM: Strategies for Transformation
      (pp. 197-216)

      The irony of the current situation is that the U.S. union movement must become part of a new labor movement. To do so, unions must move left; they have no alternative.

      The Gompers compromise unfolded as national capitalism, and later imperialism, took hold in the United States. The bulk of the U.S. movement (excluding the Industrial Workers of the World and other forces that followed them on the left) did not see a close connection between the imperial adventures of the United States and the development of U.S. capitalism. Production largely took place in the United States, though businesses had...

  10. APPENDIX A. A PROCESS FOR ADDRESSING THE FUTURE OF U.S. ORGANIZED LABOR
    (pp. 217-224)
  11. APPENDIX B. USING RACE, CLASS, AND GENDER ANALYSIS TO TRANSFORM LOCAL UNIONS: A Case Study
    (pp. 225-244)
  12. NOTES
    (pp. 245-278)
  13. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 279-286)
  14. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 287-288)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 289-302)
  16. ABOUT THE AUTHORS
    (pp. 303-304)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 305-305)