The labor movement is talking - is the left listening?

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There is a broad left current in the U.S. labor movement today. Many veterans of the rank-and-file struggles of the '60s, '70s, and '80s are now leaders of local unions, regional union bodies, and central labor councils. Some are now in national leadership positions.

Further, in the mid '90s, as labor began to shed old vestiges of "business unionism," many younger rank and file activists moved into leadership positions. In the last 10 years or so, as labor takes a more class struggle stance, a whole new crop of even younger workers are moving to the fore.

This is important background to consider as the AFL-CIO prepares for its convention this September. The federation is boldly reaching out to rank and file workers including non-union workers. They want the full participation of women, civil rights, immigrant rights, youth, faith, and unemployed activists. They have invited and helped organize "listening sessions" for many social justice communities and for movement allies. They are asking all to participate in these sessions. They have even prepared a "toolkit" to help encourage groups and individuals to organize their own listening sessions.

The AFL-CIO highlights three main area of discussion they would like to discuss: 1) Changing the labor movement to speak for working people now and in the future through growth, innovation and political action; 2) Creating a voice for all in the global economy; and 3) Building genuine, durable community partnerships and effective grassroots power.

Now to the main point of this article. Sessions around the country are already bearing fruit. Participants report free-flowing good discussion and good ideas. Each session prepares a reportback to the AFL-CIO with concrete suggestions and proposals. For example one of the labor-organized sessions I participated in called for the AFL-CIO convention to adopt and fight for a "Workers' Bill of Rights." Participants specified "workers" rather than "labor" or "union" to make it clear that the labor movement will fight for all workers, not just union members.

The problem is that too many on the left are not organizing or participating in these sessions. There is too much cynicism from afar, rather than engagement on the ground. We on the left should be in the thick of these events. To be fully successful, mobilization from below, from the rank and file and grassroots, is essential. Can we get our local unions, our retirees' organizations, our churches, and our community organizations to host a session?

There is still time. With two months till the AFL-CIO convention, a lot of sessions can be organized. To get you in the mood take a look at the Communist Party USA's labor discussion document.

Bottom line: all of us on the left who see the importance of strengthening and broadening the labor movement need to be fully engaged in this process.

Photo: AFL-CIO

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  • Perhaps organized labor could begin by divesting itself from any and all CIA connections. This would ensure that the labor movement could grow, develop a more developed class consciousness and maybe even begin to question the worth of capitalism?

    Posted by Pancho Valdez, 07/08/2013 8:31pm (1 year ago)

  • Obama is slipping in forgetting the labor movement that helped elect him TWICE! WHERE IS THE HELP TO STOP THE UTILITARIAN RIGHT DICTATORSHIP FROM BUSTING OUR UNIONS WITH RIGHT TO WORK AND STOPPING THE RICH AND POOR AGENDA OF MY GOVERNOR OF OHIO OF SELLING IT'S ASSETS OFF TO HIS FRIEND'S TO PRIVATIZE AND REDUCE MORE JOBS AND LOWER WAGES!!!!!

    Posted by dan morris, 07/08/2013 3:48pm (1 year ago)

  • I couldn't agree more,, Scott!

    Posted by sam mckee, 07/07/2013 10:11pm (1 year ago)

  • think this is very good. time is now 2 start 2 build a strong movement of folks, including women, black americans, latino americans, asian americans, gay folks, faith based folks, young people, etc. all based on the workers organized & unorganized. this is a great period of struggle. no time 4 despair. i think the working class is going thru a learning period. in solidarity jim

    Posted by jim pita, 07/07/2013 2:45pm (1 year ago)

  • Excellent. The focus on workers as a tangible human element, not something abstract and distant was very positive. I wonder if the case of the Cuban 5 will surface at the September, AFL-CIO Convention as a prime example of the fight for social justice that binds all workers together.

    Posted by Richard Grassl, 07/03/2013 12:01pm (1 year ago)

  • The toolkit is an excellent organizer that we should be buzzing about.
    Communities, need cohesiveness in these deadly, dangerous times, along with focus of what to do next, in unity with labor.
    The more we act in unity, the more power we have to prevent the violence of rulers against communities, as we demand positive change to protect and generate voting rights, green jobs, public information,(also limiting the use of private information for repression) public education, public transportation, unionization, income, public health care, and massive public construction of infrastructure for all.
    We have to watch and listen carefully to the working class, especially to organized sectors, seeking to expand unionization of the oppressed: poor, women, Latino, African American, gay, native, youth and elderly groups. Thanks for writing about the CP's labor discussion document.
    "TooShay" or touche', Scottie.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 07/03/2013 11:27am (1 year ago)

  • Excellent idea. Let's get on it
    --jimlane in Dallas

    Posted by jim lane, 07/03/2013 11:11am (1 year ago)

  • My first thought is: Be bold. The thugs on the other side don't care what they say or do--the more ravenous and sadistic they are, the better, it seems. So I would suggest rabidly (if you like) attacking them in no uncertain terms. I really think if you get enough images out there of sick and dying, hungry children, who are in that fix because the greedy elite doesn't care whether they live or die, you might get some press and people might begin to get it. Americans seem to be asleep or maybe just conked out in front of the TV. It's an emergency and the right is the only side that seems to articulate that in an attention-grabbing way! Go for it. You have reality on your side

    Posted by Carol Wheeler, 07/02/2013 2:36pm (1 year ago)

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