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  Public Employee Press

PEP Oct 2014
Table of Contents
  La Voz

Public Employee Press

Book Review
A manifesto to revive the labor movement

With U.S. union membership at its lowest level since the 1920s, scholar and labor activist Stanley Aronowitz has issued a manifesto for reawakening the sleeping giant as a broader, more radical movement.

His new book, "Death and Life of American Labor: Toward a New Workers' Movement," analyzes the decline of much of the labor movement in recent decades and says the current discontent over chronic underemployment, poverty and stagnant wages can be the source of new vitality. Labor's last big gains, he argues, were in the heyday of public sector organizing in the 1960s, with considerable inspiration from the Civil Rights Movement. He highlights the strategies that built the movements of the 1930s and 1960s but were abandoned in later years.

Aronowitz is adamant that only continual militant protests can produce a movement capable of social change. Workers in the 1930s did not just organize but conducted civil disobedience in the form of waves of workplace sit-downs and even general strikes. He cites two recent militant upsurges that challenged the decline of workers' conditions - the Occupy movement and the protests in Madison, Wis., against right-wing Republican moves to wipe out public sector collective bargaining. In his analysis, the Madison Central Labor Council erred by focusing on electoral politics in the unsuccessful effort to oust Gov. Scott Walker and defusing the on-the-ground protests.

Unions in the 1930s joined protests against unemployment and evictions and supported civil rights and, of course, other unions' struggles. Now, Aronowitz says, unions need to build bridges with community groups, which are also manifestations of working-class politics. Today some unions, such as DC 37 and its parent union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, are moving in this direction, building coalitions with allies in faith-based organizations and the growing community labor alliances that speak for low-wage workers and immigrant rights and supporting the protests against police violence in Ferguson, Mo., the Southern Moral Monday protests and most recently the People's Climate March.

Aronowitz reminds us that unions grow in an atmosphere of wider working class struggles. His stirring manifesto is available in the Education Fund Library in Room 211 at DC 37.

— Ken Nash, DC 37 Ed Fund Library,

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