Unions in a New Economic Reality

Monday, January 11, 2021 - 1:00pm
Bill Fletcher Jr. and Jane McAlevey

Over the past fifty years an all-out assault has been waged by capital against working people that has resulted in the diminution of worker rights and a tremendous weakening of the power of US unions. The neo-liberal war has been multifaceted, highlights include a sophisticated union busting industry coupled with a series of recent Supreme Court decisions that have hemmed in workers on all sides. The last time union financial contributions to congressional candidates equaled corporate donations was 1978, significantly compromising working class power at the ballot box, not just the bargaining table.

But haven’t unions also been weakened by internal strife? Self-inflicted wounds including corruption, cutting deals that compromise too much with corporations, racism and sexism haven’t helped. Although the past two years have seen an encouraging rise in strike actions and militancy (especially in the education sector) where do we go from here?

Pandemics, climate disruptions, precarious and low employment and endemic racism are just some of the social challenges we face this decade. How do social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter relate to organizing in the new reality? Can and should unions become more than representatives of workers in a particular area? Can democracy function without unions? How does one build solidarity not only in the local community, but nationally and even internationally in our globalized economy?

These are challenging questions and we are fortunate to have Jane McAlevey and Bill Fletcher Jr. to help us navigate our way through them.

Jane McAlevey is an organizer, author, and scholar. She is currently a Senior Policy Fellow at the University of California at Berkeley’s Institute for Labor & Employment Relations. Her third book, A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy, argues that despite, if not because of, the withering attacks on working people from the US Supreme Court, conservative state and local governments, and the corporate class, the survival of American democracy depends on rebuilding unions.

Bill Fletcher Jr. has been an activist since his teen years. He has worked for several labor unions in addition to serving as a senior staff person in the national AFL-CIO. Fletcher is executive editor of globalafricanworker.com; a past president of TransAfrica Forum; a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies; and in the leadership of several other projects. Fletcher is the co-author (with Peter Agard) of The Indispensable Ally: Black Workers and the Formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, 1934-1941; the coauthor (with Dr. Fernando Gapasin) of Solidarity Divided; author of 'They're Bankrupting Us' - And Twenty Other Myths about Unions; and the author of the mystery novel The Man Who Fell From the Sky.