labor unions concern themselves solely with the wages and benefits
of their own dues-paying membership, or should they also care about
the plight of the unemployed? Should labor focus merely on conditions
of workers in the United States, or broaden their scope to address
globalization and the international flows of capital? And what about
building a movement for social, racial and economic justice? These
are some of the fundamental questions posed in a new book called
Divided: The Crisis In Organized Labor and A New Path Toward Social
Justice (University of California Press, 2008, 324 pp.).
authors of Solidarity Divided are Bill Fletcher, Jr., BlackCommentator.com
Executive Editor and longtime activist, and Fernando Gapasin,
Central Labor Council President and labor educator. Perhaps no two
individuals are better equipped to provide a critique of labor’s
mistakes, and offer solutions for the future of the movement.
troubling picture painted by Fletcher and Gapasin is of a labor
movement that has been, as they articulate, “too pale, too stale,
and too male” to address the everyday realities of working people
and the poor. And the history of labor unions is one of missed opportunities
and missteps, of acting too often as a cheerleader for predatory
companies and policies and against the interests of labor, of allowing
divide and conquer tactics to prevail at the expense of workers
of color in the South and elsewhere, and of rubberstamping America’s
foreign policy and antidemocratic tendencies toward empire building.
to its credit, the book takes the reader through a history of labor
struggles in the U.S., and shows how union
leaders, frequently myopic and lacking in vision and an understanding
of geopolitics and global economic forces, threw working people
under the bus. Leftist leaders and ideologies were purged from the
unions. With a strong anti-communist stance in many unions came
an unquestioned support for capitalism as it is - rather than a
new vision for the nation which champions the working class and
demands social justice - and a not-so-tacit approval of America’s military exploits
abroad. White workers signed on to the exploitation of their Black
and Brown counterparts, not realizing that a divided organized labor
compromised their own bargaining power in the process.
Right destroyed social movements in the U.S.
with its assaults on civil rights and liberties, a war on a woman’s
right to choose and the war on drugs. Many union leaders identified
with the policies of the Right and cozied up to its leaders. As
they lived well and dined on sumptuous meals with the people in
power, they did not realize that their unions were being destroyed
in a world of mortgage foreclosure mania, rising fuel costs, an
eviscerated and decimated middle class, and the largest upward redistribution
of wealth in history, a revitalized union movement is more crucial
than ever. But are the unions up to the task? In order to remain
relevant, the authors suggest, labor must move beyond the traditional
construct of collective bargaining agreements, and become champions
for socio-economic justice, racial and gender equality, environmental
justice and immigrants’ rights.
the new realities of this world, the traditional union tactics are
rendered obsolete. The old constructs of labor organizing are wholly
inadequate to address the now dominant form of global capitalism,
a pernicious neoliberalism which places the U.S. at the top, lowers
wages and eliminates other barriers to making profits, and responds
to its critics by labeling them as terrorists and waging unilateral
wars against them.
authors note that the reorganization of global capitalism has turned
the capitalist state into a neoliberal authoritarian state, one
which privatizes everything and eliminates the public sphere, uses
state violence to quell dissent, and maintains a quasi-permanent
state of siege. The post 9-11 regime of torture, spying and manufactured
bogeymen is a manifestation of this mentality, but so too is the
government’s callous response to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
And the failure to recognize and respond to these realities has
placed unions on the sidelines. A new solidarity movement must form
coalitions with other social justice organizations across borders,
engage in a true class-based struggle, and understand the links
between the interests of multinational corporations and American
must read Solidarity Divided. Fletcher and Gapasin provide
a superior narrative of the road the labor movement has traveled,
and chart the path it must now take for its own survival.
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member, David A. Love, JD, is a lawyer
and journalist based in Philadelphia, and a
contributor to the Progressive Media Project, McClatchy-Tribune News Service,
In These Times and Philadelphia Independent Media
Center. He contributed to the book, States of Confinement: Policing, Detention, and Prisons (St. Martin's Press, 2000). Love is a former Amnesty
spokesperson, organized the first national police brutality conference
as a staff member with the Center for Constitutional Rights, and
served as a law clerk to two Black federal judges. His blog is davidalove.com. Click
to contact Mr. Love.