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Stephen Lerner's essay, Reviving Unions.
From the Bottom Up
Stephen Lerner proposes a good strategy. But it will have to be implemented from the bottom up.
The new AFL-CIO leadership advocates the very non-adversarial approach that Lerner deplores. Lerner attacks the idea that "in a competitive international economy, workers need to cooperate in insuring the competitiveness of their firms." But John Sweeney recently told the National Press Club that "we can no longer afford the luxury of pretending that productivity, quality and competitiveness are not our business."1
Sweeney's disinclination to struggle is evident in his acts as well as in his words. To quote the Village Voice, "So far the New Voice leadership's record has given reason to wonder when the fighting is going to start."2 Catastrophe at Caterpillar was followed by disaster at Staley. Nor has the "new" AFL-CIO shown any inclination to return to the tactics that showed such promise in the Detroit newspaper strike last fall: mass picketing in defiance of an injunction at the plant where the papers are produced. Yet these are precisely the tactics that Lerner advocates and would have us believe that Sweeney champions.
"Reviving Unions" therefore misleads in suggesting that "the AFL-CIO can be the moral, strategic, and logistical center" of a new strategy based on mass direct action outside the law.
Thus a strategy of direct action and civil disobedience can be successfully driven from below. The Dayton strike offers a contemporary paradigm. There, 3,000 workers in one locality shut down 26 assembly plants of the world's largest corporation, causing more than 175,000 workers to be laid off. This is exactly how General Motors was first organized. Sadly, the immense leverage achieved by the Dayton strikers was thrown away by one of those national union bureaucracies on whom Lerner would have us rely, so that no progress was made in ending contracting-out. We can do better next time, working not through the national AFL-CIO, but with rank-and-file workers in local unions and on the shop floor.
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