How to Save the Unions

Posted on May 18, 2011 by

I don’t know.  Nobody does. 

But here’s a quick survey (with links) of some recent – and not so recent – ideas. 

A good one suggesting unions are too comfortable with corporate monopolies and should develop stronger ties to entrepreneurs. 

Or one of several “thought pieces” lately on how labor must change its relationship to the democratic party.

There were a slew of academic texts years ago, calling for new union models consistent with changing corporate culture.

And, of course, a steady drumbeat for decades for unions to become more militant.

The relentless decline of the percentage of private-sector workers belonging to unions is the common thread. 

Confronting its fate head-on in 1995, unions elected John Sweeney president of the AFL-CIO.

Ten years later, in a bitter split, a group of national unions committed to large-scale organizing, led by SEIU, broke away to form “Change to Win.” 

None of which reversed the trend.

So now there’s Madison.  Giving outraged union members, activists and leaders a resurgent voice and – presumably – striking a chord with mainstream Americans.

Lost in all the “big-picture” talk sometimes is what’s happening everyday on the ground, particularly in campaigns with relatively few workers.

Here, finally, is a “how-to” piece by California-based longshore organizer Peter Olney, arguing that one comeback scenario is for unions to use all their tools to fight – and win – those critically important local battles right in front of them.

Comments (2)


  1. Greg says:

    I think it has nothing to do with our relationship to Democrats. I do think it has everything to do with the unions’ relationship to corporations as well as our willingness over the years to allow the Republicans to demonize us. Decades ago when the “Right To Work” for less movement began, we should have created a bigger push back then. But I believe it was the hubris of our power that allowed us to get dragged under. But we are here now and we have to absolutely appeal to the public in terms of the value we give to the worker. It’s on us. Not the politicians. And not the corporations unless we can persuade them we are their partners rather than their adversaries. And I think we can do that but it’s going to take a lot of preparation and information. It will take quite a few years. Remember the Union Label song? That was good. Let’s start with something like that and then do a wide sweep of informational meetings. So many workers are so afraid that they can’t get or keep a job if they go union. They also don’t quite understand what the union does. We need to inform them. We are power. But we have to claim it. As long as we blame others we are not using the power we do have.

  2. carl bunin says:

    found you on the web and thought you’d be interested

    Please tell your contacts about these buttons.
    The more we get out the better.
    SAVE our Unions button

Leave a Reply