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Debate Over the Future of the AFL-CIO

More Heat than Light

A debate over the future of the AFL-CIO, the federation of most unions in the USA, has been underway for some months and, for the life of me, while the debate becomes more intense, the differences seem to blur. Yet, the feeling that one gets is that we are headed for a train wreck … | more…

A Note on the Death of Andre Gunder Frank (1929-2005)

I met André Gunder Frank and his wife Marta Fuentes in 1967. Our long conversation convinced us that we were intellectually on the same wavelength. “Modernization Theory,” then dominant, ascribed the “underdevelopment” of the Third World to the retarded and incomplete formation of its capitalist institutions. Marxist orthodoxy, as represented by the Communist Parties, presented its own version of this view and characterized Latin America as “semi-feudal.” Frank put forward a new and entirely different thesis: that from its very origins Latin America had been constructed within the framework of capitalist development as the periphery of the newly arising centers of Europe’s Atlantic seabord. For my part, I had undertaken to analyze the integration of Asia and Africa into the capitalist system in light of the requirements of “accumulation on a global scale,” a process that by its inner logic had to produce a polarization of wealth and power… | more…

Labor Movements: Is There Hope?

For the past thirty years, the class struggle has been a pretty one-sided affair, with capital delivering a severe beating to labor around the globe. When economic stagnation struck most of the world’s advanced capitalist economies, beginning in the mid-1970s, capital went on the offensive, quickly understanding that the best way to maintain and increase profit margins in a period of slow and sporadic economic growth was to cut labor costs. Governments and global lending agencies such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund began to implement policies that made workers increasingly insecure… | more…

The Legacy of the IWW

This year marks the centenary of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), American labor’s unique visionaries. It also marks the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the AFL-CIO, the result of the merger of the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organization. Remarkably it is also the tenth anniversary of the change of the guard at the AFL-CIO. In 1995, John Sweeney and his “New Voice” team, expressing the rumblings of disillusionment with then-president and prominent Cold Warrior Lane Kirkland sweeping through the middle and upper ranks of the organization, drove the old guard from the highest offices. The concurrence of the three anniversaries may be more than a coincidence. To see why, let us go back and examine some recent labor history… | more…

Crisis in the U.S. Labor Movement: The Roads Not Taken

There is no disputing that these are tough times for the working class and its allies (all those oppressed by capitalism). The working class lacks a political party; social services to assist us with the inevitable problems we face have been eroded; and even our few precious institutions, especially unions, seem overwhelmed by the relentless attacks… | more…

Labor Needs a Radical Vision

For forty years, AFL-CIO leaders George Meany and Lane Kirkland saw unorganized workers as a threat when they saw them at all. They drove left-wing activists out of unions and threw the message of solidarity on the scrapheap. Labor’s dinosaurs treated unions as a business, representing members in exchange for dues, while ignoring the needs of workers as a whole. A decade ago new leaders were thrust into office in the AFL-CIO, a product of the crisis of falling union density, weakened political power, and a generation of angry labor activists demanding a change in direction. Those ten years have yielded important gains for unions. Big efforts were made to organize strawberry workers in Watsonville, California, asbestos workers in New York and New Jersey, poultry and meatpacking workers in the South, and health care workers throughout the country. Yet in only one year was the pace of organizing fast enough to keep union density from falling… | more…

Canadian Labor Today: Partial Successes, Real Challenges

It is undeniably true that the Canadian labor movement has been healthier than our neighbors to the south in the past twenty years. In many ways, Canadian unions represent a positive counterpoint to the crisis of labor in the United States.… Unions in key sectors such as auto led a two-decade-long struggle against concession bargaining and have so far prevented multi-tiered wage agreements. Public sector unions have linked the defense of public sector workers with relatively effective strategies of maintaining strong popular support for public medicine and social services.… But if you look below the surface today, all is not so rosy. The long-term effects of neoliberal inspired restructuring that began in the late 1970s have reshaped the environment of today’s Canadian economy. This has given new power to employers to demand concessions. Whether the threatened outcome is takeover by a U.S. corporation, the movement of investment out of the country, enhanced dependence upon transnational investment decisions, outsourcing, or bankruptcy protection, the logic of capitalist restructuring weighs heavily on the minds of workers.… | more…

Mexico’s Labor Movement in Transition

The Mexican labor movement has been undergoing a profound transformation in the last ten years, the result of twenty years of neoliberal economic policies and the transformation of the Mexican one-party state. A new independent labor movement has emerged which has not only broken with the old state-controlled labor-relations system, but has also put itself forward as the leader of the social movements, and, at the moment, appears as a real political force that can challenge the government.… | more…

Made in Venezuela: The Struggle to Reinvent Venezuelan Labor

Last month, the National Union of Venezuelan Workers (UNT) turned two. Since its inception in May 2003, the UNT has been at the center of debates surrounding the advances of Venezuela’s revolution in the labor arena. At root, these debates turn on issues of worker control: over their factories and over their unions. Democracy is at the heart of the attempt by Venezuelan workers to reinvent a labor movement long characterized by corruption and class collaboration… | more…

Will Miller

The Life of an Activist-Educator

In many parts of our country—in communities large and small—there are activists engaged in a wide range of struggles for social and economic justice. In some communities and states there is one person who stands out as a consistent force for social change. This person inspires others and provides continuity over the years. In Vermont, University of Vermont professor of philosophy Will Miller was such a major force for left education and change—in local communities, at the university, and in the state. A committed socialist and Marxist, Will’s devotion to activism was inseparable from his role as teacher. His devotion to change and knowledge and understanding of history and economics—and his willingness to discuss almost any issue at the drop of a hat—meant that he was an educator both inside and outside the classroom. Unlike most academics (radical or not), Will choose to concentrate on teaching and social change through various means instead of on publishing articles in scholarly journals … | more…

Labor Imperialism Redux? The AFL-CIO’s Foreign Policy Since 1995

Throughout much of its history, the AFL-CIO has carried out a reactionary labor program around the world. It has been unequivocally established that the AFL-CIO has worked to overthrow democratically-elected governments, collaborated with dictators against progressive labor movements, and supported reactionary labor movements against progressive governments.1 In short, the AFL-CIO has practiced what we can accurately call “labor imperialism.” The appellation “AFL-CIA” has accurately represented reality and has not been left-wing paranoia.… | more…

Dressing the Wound: Organizing Informal Sector Workers

Neoliberal capitalism, which has dominated the world’s economies for the past thirty years, has been disastrous for the exploited and oppressed masses. Not only have workers been increasingly oppressed, but the nature of the work they do has changed dramatically. While organized workers try to remain on their feet, production moves to the unorganized sectors. The production process is dispersed to small-sized enterprises. Outsourcing has spread so much that millions of workers bring their work home to continue production for their factories. Employment without insurance no longer constitutes an exception, but has become the norm. A worker with insurance is considered to be lucky. The number of unorganized women and child workers has increased rapidly. Working hours and labor laws have become more “flexible.” Order-based production has destroyed job security. Full-time, regular employment has been gradually replaced by part-time, temporary, and precarious work. Thus, the informal sector (which encompasses child labor, migrant workers, temporary workers, contract workers, domestic workers, homeworkers, and workers in small production units and subcontractor firms) has become more and more prevalent around the world… | more…