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The Debate over Labor’s 2020 Strategy

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Workers holding up a banner that says Workers Need Union Jobs

Rand Wilson and Peter Olney respond to the many replies to their January 22 article.

We are indebted to the many Organizing Upgrade readers who responded thoughtfully to our article, A Labor Movement 2020 Election Strategy. Privately, we also received additional comments that were in the same constructive spirit.

Brothers Garver, Maki and Siegel contributed to the discussion on what the list of programmatic demands for labor unity should look like. As they know from their vast experience in the labor movement, achieving this unity will be a contentious and difficult process – with the need to agree to disagree on some points. Garver’s point emphasizing the importance of labor embracing the Green New Deal is crucial if we are to unite with a younger generation determined to meet the challenges of climate change. But care must be taken that any Green New Deal include strong provisions for a “just transition” to protect impacted workers – or the Deal is off for labor.

Brothers Eckstein and Berry zeroed in on how we reform the decision-making process inside our unions and prevent the AFL-CIO from making an early endorsement of a corporate candidate because the big affiliates get boisterous and throw their weight around. While Eckstein correctly points out that the “Bernie Six” (APWU, ATU, CWA, ILWU, NNU, UE) are not capable of wielding sufficient votes to prevent that on their own, they are capable of creating a political bloc that could move members, locals and regional bodies to oppose a rush to judgment. Similarly, that bloc could impact the internal decision-making process – which Berry is rightfully concerned about – by slowing any attempted hasty move and maximizing member involvement.

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Can unions make the leap?

In a particularly thoughtful private communication, a former steelworker, Doug Marshall, objected to our calling the results of labor’s early Clinton endorsements disastrous. “She won the popular vote by three million in spite of right-wing attacks for many years, a free-trade agenda that rankled manufacturing workers, and sexism.” A point well taken. But our electoral strategy must operate within the constraints of the Electoral College which gave Trump the White House because of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan – where Hillary lost on aggregate by 100,000 votes. Our contention is that a candidate with better working class credentials could have carried those three states and can do so in the next Presidential election.

Marshall was also skeptical that unions could “agree to disagree” on the finer points of a unity platform. He wrote, “Will the IAM back a gut-the-defense-budget candidate? Will the USW’s refinery workers agree to endorse a 100% clean energy candidate? Will the construction trades agree to a plank that in any way implies job reduction?” Sobering questions indeed. And while we agree with him that only “a labor federation that is institutionally stronger than its component unions” could manage to pull it off with all the unions, our hope is that a significant, but smaller number are ready to make that leap.

We look forward to continuing this important conversation on Organizing Upgrade, other media and in face-to-face meetings and forums.


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