back to front page back to headlines Back to Theory feedback
Check out www.cpusa.org for an important new report on the labor
unions in America: The Debates in Labor: Danger or Historic Opportunity
by Scott Marshall, CPUSA Vice Chair and Chair, CPUSA Labor Commission.
People who are serious about progressive change recognize the
tremendous importance of these organizations. It's a mistake to think of organized
unions as somehow having higher "consciousness" than other people
or organizations. It's also a mistake, common in the great mass movements of
the 1960-1970 period, to think of unions as more backward.
Unions are what they are - organizations that try to get the best possible benefits for their members. To a certain extent, some unions also see themselves as a "social movement" that gets involved in civil rights, women's rights, and other progressive issues.
Just about all unions are heavily involved in electoral politics
because they realized long ago that they can win or lose members' benefits at
the ballot box just as well as at the negotiating table.
Just as some unions are more progressive than others, some unions are more powerful than others. Most American unions are linked at the national, state, and local level by cooperating bodies of the American Federation of Labor/ Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). Since 1995, the national federation has taken a number of historically progressive turns. The AFL-CIO speaks for labor and helps with public activities, but they have little power to actually make the big national unions do anything. The unions have their own money, the federation has much less.
No organizations in America are as highly regulated as the unions.
Virtually everything they do, have done, or might do, is the subject of a complicated
network of legislation, court rulings, and government agencies. The Bush Administration
has made it clear that they intend to add a lot more burdensome regulations
and limitations on the unions.
Having said all that, what makes the unions so important to anyone
hoping to effect progressive change in America? It's the fact that they alone
have the ability to actually confront the corporations that are running the
country. Others may make moral appeals, they may have martyred members, they
may have the most ingenious of tactics and the most clever of slogans; but they
can't stop the system. Organized workers can.