Amy Dean: Labor must build "to challenge power"


ST. LOUIS - To re-build the American labor movement we “can’t use the same tired old strategies and tactics,” Amy B. Dean told union members and community activists here at the Friends of the People’s World 7th Annual ‘Working Class Media & Democracy’ forum.

“We have to do things fundamentally different,” she continued. “We have to build a fundamentally different capacity and deal with what it takes to challenge power in fundamental ways.”

Dean is the co-author of ‘A New New Deal: How Regional Activism Will Reshape the American Labor Movement.’ She has appeared on CNN, NPR and Good Morning America, and her articles have been printed in dozens of publications across the country.

The forum, held at the Operating Engineers’ Local 148 Union Hall, raised over $4,000 for the Friends of the People’s World, and was attended by members of the state workers’ union (Communication Workers of America local 6355), CWA 6300, Operating Engineers’ Local 148, the Steelworkers union, the Service Employees International Union, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, and the United Auto Workers. 

According to Dean, “the only way that we build power is by building the trade union movement.” Additionally, though organized labor has seen a steep decline in union membership over the past 30 years, unions still remain the most powerful peoples’ organization in the country.

Reflecting on the recent mid-term elections, Dean said, “this is a sobering, not somber moment.”

“We should use this moment as a teachable moment,” she continued. Referring to President Obama, she said the first lesson we should learn is: “There are limits to charismatic leadership. It is not a substitute for building the movement.”

She said, “We have to build the political organizations that are year-round and long-term. We need to keep an electoral-political apparatus active year-round.”

“The building blocks for progressive change is local organizing that impacts organizing on a federal level. However, if local communities aren’t organized on the ground change doesn’t happen,” Dean concluded.

While the recent mid-term elections were sobering, Dean emphasized the positive accomplishments of organized labor. She said, “the labor movement of today has a better coordinated electoral machine than ever before. No one can put the troops on the ground like the labor movement can.”

Additionally, she said, “at a local level progressive are finding their voice. However, we need to learn from each other and share best practices.”

Dean suggested that labor and community organizations partner to do research and development, build deep, long-term coalitions, and organize around aggressive political action.

Ultimately, she concluded, “We have to build the political space for people to come together that translates into public policy. We have to build formal mechanisms for relationship building, and we need to be more serious about leadership development.”

Photo by Mark Esters, CWA 6355 / PW

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  • Very obviously,it is no coincidence that this strong article appears side by side with the article U.S. official: We need independent labor media.
    This local gathering of solid trade unionist activism on the ground,with its own history and the International Labor Communications Association's meet is the kind of fusion we need to foward our efforts to make a New New Deal for American labor,both the employed and unemployed.
    Especially is this true,considering the point made by Carl Fillichio,senior adviser for public affairs and communications. According to him,and people at this People's World forum,the prime reason for the big political losses the Nov,2010 election brought was lack of accurate,partisan information for and by the working people and people in communities. The ILCA,has to both be communicated with,and it has to communicate to workers in communities and work places to give and get information on issues and actions for change to improve work places and communities, including creating unionized jobs,on a massive scale.
    Officials of the CPUSA have pointed out that we need more and more narratives of working class perspectives to keep the working people informed of its issues and interests in an often hostile political climate.
    As Dean says,federal departments and agencies can help create framework for further organization,as it has in the cases reported by Fillichio,hiring bilingual grievance workers,issue fines on big oil,and shutting down big business operations because of worker safety issues.
    What was done at the ILCA meet,giving each person the name,e-mail and phone of each in the audience should be done for the St.Louis forum(and can be done).
    Organization for Jobs,Jobs,Jobs in the very volatile political context of today must be done to unify millions in each region,including the St. Louis metropolitan region.
    This is a start for developing such working class think tanks and policy making organizations envisioned at this meet. Labor historian,Rose Feurer's "Civic Unionism"practiced by Communist activists like William Sentner and Herschel Walker in the St. Louis metro area,give us positive precedence,as pointed out to Dean at the St. Louis meeting.
    The working people have created the vast and complex communications including computer technology and transportation media on the planet and it is high time that we utilized it to foward our interests,and jobs,in a New,New Deal.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 11/22/2010 1:31pm (5 years ago)

  • The labor movement in the U.S. must also break it's dependency on the Democratic Party! The DP has sold us out repeatedly and it's time we come to acknowledge this and do something about it!

    Posted by Pancho Valdez, 11/21/2010 5:45pm (5 years ago)

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