Which side are you on? Time for labor to lead on social justice
Supporters of the “Fight for $15” gathered in New York City’s Union Square in December to bring the plight of fast food workers to light. Image by Michael Fleshman. (Flickr Creative Commons).

Old Man Trump’s vile son is set to become the American president. So the protests and resistance are beginning, and we’re figuring out what this looks like.   I am thinking about my role in the union movement, both as the servicing representative for 1300 bargaining unit members, but also much more now as a soldier in the labor movement as we face massive national and global consequences.

The labor movement needs to address the stresses inherent in selling our GOP union members on solidarity in their union when the political endorsements are overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates.  Alienating the GOP members reduces dues revenue, and spurs talk of decertification.  That’s a fact.  We often skip that part of the conversation in order to focus on common denominators: layoffs, benefits cuts, and salary freezes, the common enemies.  But racism and misogyny are the common enemies, too.
The Democratic Party failed to organize around economic justice, despite everything Sanders’ campaign showed us.  Labor failed to organize around social justice, despite everything Van Jones has been telling us for years about artificial silos.  In both cases this is something we can change.
At Netroots Nation last year, the AFL-CIO hosted a Labor Caucus.  AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre and Chief Economist Bill Spriggs talked about the imperative for white union members to talk to other white union members about white privilege and true labor solidarity, and to overwhelmingly defeat Trump so that the GOP rejects his racist and dehumanizing model of organizing.  Well, we failed pretty spectacularly there.

I think the labor movement needs to restructure its revenue model and recognize that our obligations to represent members will never be appropriately paid for by all of the members.  Too many are going to choose to be free riders, especially where their membership has been a fait accompli due to agency shop.  If we lose the support of some members when the labor movement, the economic justice movement, actually becomes indistinguishable from the Movement for Black Lives and the immigrants’ rights movement, so be it.

We never really had that support, and we need to stop caring about it.  I think we still need to organize and reach out to all members, always.  We don’t have to demand ethical purity from our members.  But we need to organize loudly and actively as a social justice movement, while accepting that some will be alienated.  I am committed to fighting those people on civil rights, while still fighting for their jobs, enforcing their contracts, and preserving their retirement. True respect for all of our members means speaking the truth to all of our members.

Labor needs to be an unapologetically vocal social justice movement, and raise our funds from engaged members and allies, inside and outside the labor movement.  We need to do it now, before the next Friedrichs case, because now more than ever, we are on a war footing, and we have to speak clearly.  Let’s replace the revenue we will lose from the diehard racist and misogynist members with voluntary contributions from associate members who want bread and roses for everyone.

Which side are you on?  That tune needs some fresh lyrics, and quick.


Beth Caskie
Beth Caskie

Beth Caskie is a California-based Democratic Party activist and a labor relations representative for the past eight years.  All views are her own, and do not represent those of her employer.