The Transformation of U.S. Unions: Voices, Visions, and Strategies from the Grassroots

The Transformation of U.S. Unions: Voices, Visions, and Strategies from the Grassroots

The Transformation of U.S. Unions: Voices, Visions, and Strategies from the Grassroots

The Transformation of U.S. Unions: Voices, Visions, and Strategies from the Grassroots

Excerpt

“The search for new directions is not easy, but history is the story of change!” A significant change came about in 1995 when the New Voice slate, led by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) president John Sweeney, United Mine Workers (UMW) president Richard Trumka, and Linda Chavez-Thompson, was elected to lead the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)—a stunning result of the first contested AFL-CIO presidential election in over seventy years. A key question asked in this book is how important the Sweeney team's upheaval may turn out to be for the democratic transformation of unions. Some observers point to important changes already made by the new leadership; others argue that the reforms promised by New Voice are, democratically speaking, “two days late and two dollars short. ” A key point of contention is whether labor should cooperate with or struggle against capital and its attempts to downsize, outsource, and globalize the workers and the U. S. economy.

The fourteen chapters that follow make a powerful case for a socially conscious grassroots democracy as the crux of union reform and perhaps even as the salvation of the union movement. The authors assess both the promise and the limitations of the AFL-CIO's new, reform-oriented leadership, which hopes to reverse the disastrous, forty-year decline of organized labor's share of the paid workforce—from one-third in the 1950s to less than a sixth in 1998. By connecting the history of union reform with a critical analysis of reform movements today, the authors develop recommendations for transforming U. S. labor in the years to come.

The chapter authors—labor activists, scholars, and journalists—explain and document the vital importance of union democracy, the importance of workers' taking matters into their own hands by participating in union decisions, by holding their leaders accountable, and by reaching out . . .

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