Reinvigorating Our Unions: Organizing Ourselves First, to Meet the Changing Times
A union president explains how labor needs to adjust to be relevant today.
This isn’t your father’s labor movement. Back when my dad was a Cleveland bus driver and member of the Amalgamated Transit Union, Americans had a more common lived experience. Everyone in your hometown read the same newspaper and watched the same television shows. The people on your block belonged to the same civic associations and bowling leagues. The chatter around the water cooler, the local diner, or the school lockers covered more or less the same, reliable topics.
Often, our mothers and fathers worked for one of just a handful of major local employers (though if you were African American, your career options were limited and upward mobility was quite rare). Religious faith bonded people to one another; your church or other house of worship provided a unifying community space. Your neighbors knew you and your family (and, if you were a kid, you could be sure they’d tell your parents if they saw you making trouble). There was one local movie theater, and it had one screen—no multiplexes to cater to individual tastes.
To be sure, this experience wasn’t completely universal. There were deep race and class fissures, and I didn’t play Little League with the children of any bank executives or factory owners, who often lived outside of town. But it was a society of joiners, with people attaching themselves to centralized social networks for financial security and cultural identity. These associations became the organizing principles of their lives. It was a society where unionism and solidarity came naturally.
Half a century later, digitally-powered fragmentation and customization are the order of the day. Larger institutions, designed to capture broad swaths of people, are trusted less and less.
People are still joiners, but they’re much more discriminating about what they join and with whom. Rather than sublimating individuality to blend into the institution, they expect institutions to be tailored to their specifications. They are Reinvigorating Our Unions: Organizing Ourselves First, to Meet the Changing Times | Alternet: