Organized jobless: a powerful force


At few times in our nation's history has the cry for jobs - and the need to organize those doing the crying - been more apparent and more possible.

The movements placing the fight for jobs and for the unemployed at the center of their agenda include the AFL-CIO and many of the organizations that came together in the nation's capital Oct. 2 under the banner of "One Nation, Working Together."

We should note that there are also some sections of the ruling class, Democratic politicians, and President Obama, among other political forces and personalities who see the need for jobs.

But without a broader, even more powerful movement to challenge a reinvigorated corporate far-right, high unemployment is here to stay.

I believe the moment calls for the unemployed to become an organized political force unto themselves - not apart from but fighting alongside as an integral component of the organized labor movement.

No individual or movement can advocate with as much moral authority for desperately needed jobs as the jobless themselves.

By taking a direct hand in helping the unemployed organize themselves, and bringing them into the House of Labor, a much expanded organized labor movement can leverage its new-found power on the legislative, electoral, union organizing and collective bargaining fronts.

As the organized labor movement takes the legislative battles into the street, the newly organized unemployed, with little to lose and much to gain, will bring added militancy to street heat.

The Machinists Union's initiative UCubed, using the Internet to help the unemployed organize, is to be applauded. 

Pioneering grassroots initiatives on the left like the Unemployed Workers Council recently launched by Chicago Jobs with Justice, and the Unemployed Action Center in Chicago need to be encouraged all over the country.

Local unions, community service groups and social justice organizations are gradually being drawn into the projects, giving these formations breadth and resources with which to carry out their activities.

Such local grassroots initiatives, multiplying across the land, could help labor, community service and social justice organizations come together more fully at the regional and national levels.

While drawing lessons from the rich experience of the Unemployed Councils of the 1930s Great Depression, that gave impetus to President Roosevelt's New Deal, present formations are emerging and being shaped by today's conditions. Then, the Communist and left-inspired jobless movement had to go it alone, with little cooperation from a trade union movement whose leading trends tended to be insular and narrow-minded.

Today, in addition to local grassroots formations and single union initiatives like the Machinists, I would argue that conditions make multi-union coordinated approaches necessary and possible, in which union and community resources are pooled for maximum results.

Today's organized labor movement is emerging as defender of all workers, unionized or not, and of the people generally - forcefully taking on racism, anti-immigrant hysteria, gender and other forms of discrimination so destructive of unity and social progress.

The AFL-CIO, its affiliates, related organizations, and unions in the process of rejoining it, have already shown the will and capacity to conduct coordinated campaigns reaching out to union members as well as non-union workers and their families.

That's what formations like Working America, Jobs with Justice and the coordinated election campaigns of recent years represent. 

In many local unions conditions are favorable today for bringing together laid-off union members, many of whom have a wealth of fighting experience and could be among the initiators and members of a growing jobless movement.

Nor does the labor movement have to do this on its own.

Others in the "One Nation" coalition, like the NAACP and the National Council of La Raza, can play a role.

Working together with today's labor movement, the newly organized jobless can turn their wrath on the Republican and tea party arsenal of lies, including the boogey-man of big government and deficit spending, rather than striking out with behavior such as racism and anti-immigrant hysteria that's destructive of others, and self-destructive in the end.

Thus, they can become a potent force fighting for jobs with a new stimulus package, public works, transportation and production infrastructure, conversion to a green economy and - in a much-changed political environment - a new New Deal.

The unemployed can potentially play a pivotal role in the crucial 2012 elections and allow the Obama coalition to regain the initiative.

Instead of fighting with one hand tied behind its back, the labor movement will be able to punch back with both.

Contributing with ideas as well as financial and staffing resources, the union movement's direct engagement will make a world of difference to the desperately needed jobless movement and to labor's overall fighting capacity.

What's more - today's jobless workers, when organized, will be tomorrow's union organizers in the workplace.

It happened in the 1930s and no reason it can't happen again as jobs open up.

From dispirited victims, jobless workers can transform themselves into spirited molders of their own and the nation's destiny.

Photo: CC 3.0


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  • Juan Lopez' position on the need for a movement of the unemployed is right on line. As one of the few surviving members of the NYC Unemployed Council of the 1940's, I can tell you that the Council's existence moved the social debate from philosophical questions about "individual initiative" (Herbert Hoover's solution to unemployment), to the physical presence of tens of thousands of organized uneployed human beings in the streets, and won for them the means to feed their children and pay their rent. And they were a potent force for FDR's program of employing millions of workers to rebuild and add to our superstructure, hospitals, schools, museums and other institutions.

    Some unions will undoubtedly understand the need for organizing the unemployed, since the existence of the latter are a threat to the gains made by the organized. Other unions may mistakenly be hostile to the idea of organizing the unemployed. For that reason, the organization of the unemployed must go on independently, with and without the support of unions. The unemployed may not have jobs, but they have the vote and an organized unemployed worker is an informed voter. It may very well be that California is today what New York was 70 years ago - oriented to action and far less sectarian than New York was in those years.

    David Alman

    Posted by David Alman, 12/06/2010 4:56pm (5 years ago)

  • Excellent article. Corporations latest is to offer a minimal buy out package if you don"t take it they lay you off. Then they steal your pension and give your job to a part time employee who has less senority. Who makes less of course and your out on the street. There are more and more companies who have anti union videos the employee must sit through before there hired. Aka Wall Mart Kraft foods Big Lots and others

    Posted by Russ Ford, 11/16/2010 6:51am (5 years ago)

  • I like this "organizing" thing. Has the Left ever tried it before? Snarky sarcasm aside, The Southern organizing trip and the Unemployed movement are great. Thats where we cam from and thats where we need to return to. (im writing 3 checks at this moment. One to Working America, One to CPUSA and one to the IWW).We all need to vote, but elections come but every couple of years, and what good are voters who have been depoliticized by crushing income loss and relenteless, saturating Corporate propaganda? We need to re-politicize the working class. The only way to do that is to rebuild the movement.The only way to rebuild the movement is to, well, rebuild the movement. So heres to far fewer "strategy" fundraisers with democratic party operators, and more solidarity with wage earning operators,electricians,laborers, and factory workers, and field workers, service workers,public employees etc.,

    Posted by blackplates, 11/15/2010 9:35pm (5 years ago)

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