In today’s Washington Post, columnist Harold Meyerson chronicles frustration with the state of the labor movement in America and the resulting shift in the organizing strategy of the AFL-CIO and the SEIU. In "Labor’s Hail Mary Pass," he asserts this shift "reflects a belief that the American labor movement may be on the verge of extinction and must radically change its game."
After highlighting the failure of successive administrations to overhaul the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, he discusses the new strategic approaches these prominent labor organizations are taking in the face of dwindling private-sector union representation:
While some unions still wage more conventional organizing campaigns, the campaign that best captures the desperation of American labor today is that of the SEIU. Perhaps the best-funded and most strategically savvy of American unions, SEIU has embarked on a door-to-door canvass in the minority neighborhoods of 17 major American cities. The goal isn’t to enroll the people behind those doors in a conventional union but, rather, into a mass organization of the unemployed and the underpaid that can turn out votes in 2012 and act as an ongoing pressure group for job creation and worker rights during (presumably) Barack Obama’s second term.
“We realized we could organize one million more people into the union and it wouldn’t in itself really change anything,” SEIU President Mary Kay Henry told me earlier this year. “We needed to do something else — something more.”
The SEIU’s program — like its semi-counterpart in the AFL-CIO’s Working America program, a door-to-door canvass in white working-class neighborhoods — will surely help Democatic candidates, despite the frustrations that nearly all labor leaders feel toward the party. But, like Working America, it signals a strategic shift by American labor, whose ranks have been so reduced that it now must recruit people to a non-union, essentially non-dues-paying organization to amass the political clout that its own diminished ranks can no longer deliver. Since labor law now effectively precludes workplace representation, unions are turning to representing workers anywhere and in any capacity they can. It’s time, they’ve concluded, for the Hail Mary pass.
Read the entire piece here.