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 Left Margin
 Labor: To Be Born Again
 By Carl Bloice

 January 23, 2005; published by Portside

 SEEN AS A pyramid, there are three elements to be considered
 in the context of the current discussion of the future of
 unionism in the United States: (1) the working class, (2) the
 labor movement, and (3) the unions. The unions exist because
 at a point in history the labor movement, proclaiming itself
 acting for the benefit of the working class, was born and set
 about to organize the working class; the form being trade
 unions. The challenge today, I suggest, is to respond to the
 needs of the working class (of which the unions today
 represent only a small part) and revive or re- launch the
 labor movement. Proposals that seek only to increase the
 number of working people in the unions do not respond
 adequately to the needs of the class; likewise proposals to
 merely adjust how the unions' resources are utilized to
 maximize political influence.

 The natural starting point for revitalizing the labor
 movement is the existing union structure. It has the
 resources, knowledge and personnel needed, and it would be
 absurd to think of starting all over from scratch. However,
 for a dynamic labor movement to arise it is obligatory that
 it proclaim its intention to act in the interest of the
 entire working class and actually set about to do it.

 The starting point is the recognition that the working class
 is under attack. In the mass media account, the social
 programs that the corporatist and right-wing forces are
 trying to weaken or destroy are those of the 'FDR era,' the
 measures taken amid the Great Depression of the 1930s. It's
 all a matter of framing. Give Franklin Roosevelt his due but
 retirement security, overtime protection, bankruptcy relief,
 social welfare and other programs were actually the priority
 items on the agenda of the labor movement, the attainment of
 which people fought for - and frequently died. Other targets
 of those who would turn all aspects of our social and
 economic destiny over to the market forces - like public
 education - date back even further, to the program of the
 European labor movement of the 19th Century.

 Public education, Social Security, Medicare, bankruptcy
 protection, public transportation, public health, gender wage
 equality, and pension/retirement rights and things like clean
 water and air and national parks are issues that directly
 affect and confront the working class. A new or revitalized
 labor movement has to see its mission as one of not just
 protecting the position of the current union membership but
 of acting forcefully on all fronts in the interest of all

 Campaigning around Social Security, for instance, should not
 be relegated to the union retirees. Protecting Social
 Security and pension rights - public and private -- is a
 class issue and the unions should take the lead - not just in
 testimony before Congress - but also in preventing the Bush
 Administration's effort to hoodwink younger workers into
 thinking enactment of its privatization scheme would be in a
 their interest.

 There is one area where an essential social program is not
 under assault - because it doesn't exist. For historical and
 political reasons that can be debated forever, U.S. unions
 failed in the post-depression or post-war years to win a
 system of universal healthcare. The result is that millions
 of working women and men, and their families, are not covered
 by healthcare insurance. Leadership which favors just any
 kind of healthcare financing scheme as long as it would
 benefit a union's current members - and maybe others in a
 similar situation - falls short and operates in counter-
 distinction to the interest of working people as a whole. The
 working people of our country need and want universal
 healthcare and a re-born labor movement would heartily
 champion its enactment.

 U.S. unions have, by and large, failed to bring unionization
 to millions of workers in the newest, fastest growing and
 most dynamic sections of the workforce. One notable exception
 is healthcare where inroads have been made but where the
 portion of unorganized remains very large. While size and
 density are important factors in strengthening the power of
 individual unions, an effort to successfully unionize workers
 in the fields of electronics/information technology, tourism,
 distribution, retail, food processing and financial services
 should be seen not as solely an effort to 'grow' individual
 unions but rather as an imperative campaign to bring the
 blessing of unionization (a chance to advance economically
 and socially) to the millions of working women and men who
 today face capital as individuals - and to their communities.

 Over recent decades, the unions have expended a great deal of
 energy and resources in political action intended to staunch
 the flow of goods into the U.S. market from 'low wage' areas
 abroad. This effort must be looked at in the context of the
 failure to bring unionization to those working in
 manufacturing facilities built by foreign or multinational
 corporations in 'low wage' areas of the United States. To
 eventually succeed in bringing unionization to workers in
 these areas will require not just the expenditure of union
 resources and assignment of personnel but, I think, more
 importantly, an organizing and political effort with full
 community involvement. This means (as with other elements of
 the political/social challenges described above) alliance
 with other sectors of society (i.e. African-American and
 Latino communities, women, Lesbians, gays and social and
 civil rights movements, environmentalists, etc.). It should
 also recognize and support forms of worker organization that
 are not unions but nonetheless constitute a sector of the
 labor movement.

 What this all constitutes, of course, is social unionism. To
 successfully meet the challenges before the unions today it
 is, I believe, necessary to take the lead in advancing the
 interest of the working class as a whole. It will require a
 revitalized, indeed, a re-born labor movement. The answer to
 the challenges lies not only in the form of organization the
 union structure devises but as well - and more importantly -
 in the content of what it asserts and fights for.

 [Carl Bloice is a freelance writer in San Francisco,

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