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