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

By Ray M. Tillman; Michael S. Cummings | Go to book overview

2
A Rising Tide
of Union Democracy
Herman Benson

You could report it as a sudden rebellion by lords against the king or a call to end the era of stagnation. When leaders of major unions forced Lane Kirkland to resign as AFL-CIO president and John Sweeney mounted a successful opposition campaign at the 1995 AFL-CIO convention against Kirkland's successor, Tom Donahue, these events were featured in the media as a milestone in labor history. Most comments were upbeat; for the first time in recent memory, the labor movement was greeted with favorable nationwide attention. In dreary times, something fresh had emerged out of labor, which had been presumed dead or dying. For that reason alone, if for no other, it was welcome news to union advocates.

By inspiring their own active cadres and convincing reporters, editorial writers, sympathetic intellectuals, and even critical opponents that they meant business, the rebels raised the morale and stimulated the enthusiasm of union activists. Even if not much more follows, you can't take that away.

So far, however, the great change is manifest mainly in public relations and promise. But to translate good intentions into reality requires more than press-grabbing rhetoric. The Sweeney forces are proud of inducing a thousand student interns to spend a summer with union organizers; they propose a series of organizational rearrangements to bring women, minorities, and younger representatives into staff and leadership positions; they intend to send more full-time organizers into the field in stepped-up campaigns to organize the unorganized, especially low-wage workers; they put more money into politics; they make misty allusions to blocking bridges to protest injustice. And they offer a pack of other practical measures.

As Sweeney came to power, the scene from a laborite's standpoint was dismal: a right-wing offensive in politics, a retreat on social welfare issues,

-27-

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents v
  • Introduction 1
  • Notes *
  • 1 - A New Labor Movement in the Shell of the Old? 9
  • 2 - A Rising Tide of Union Democracy 27
  • Notes *
  • 3 - The New Afl-Cio: No Salvation from on High for the Working Stiff 49
  • 4 - Labor:Turning the Corner Will Take More Than Mobilization 61
  • Notes *
  • 5 - Learning from the Past to Build the Future 87
  • 6 - The Dynamics of Change 97
  • Notes *
  • 7 - Unsung Heroes of Union Democracy: Rank-And-File Organizers 117
  • Notes *
  • 8 - Reform Movement in the Teamsters and United Auto Workers 137
  • Notes *
  • 9 - Hell on Wheels: Organizing Among New York City's Subway and Bus Workers 167
  • Notes *
  • 10 - The Local Union: a Rediscovered Frontier 191
  • 11 - Restructuring Labor's Identity: the Justice for Janitors Campaign in Washington, D. C. 203
  • Notes *
  • 12 - Lessons from the Umwa 219
  • Notes *
  • 13 - Cross-Border Alliances in the Era of Globalization 239
  • Notes *
  • 14 - A Strategic Organizing Alliance Across Borders 255
  • Notes *
  • Conclusion: Union Democracy and Social Unionism 267
  • Notes *
  • Selected Readings 275
  • The Contributors 279
  • Index 283
  • About the Book 297
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