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The Left became relatively weak and marginal because it was no longer based in working-class institutions and struggles. The Marxist sociologist Barry Eidlin argues in his book, Labor and the Class Idea in the United States and Canada , that countries where the Left was not severed from the working class and where the militant minority remained intact still have stronger labor movements today. For instance, in West Virginia, there was a layer of rank-and-file leaders in southern counties where the traditions of labor radicalism going back to the mine wars were strongest, and where there was a real living memory of families going out on strike and learning what it takes to win.

History of union busting in the United States - Wikipedia

They initiated the first walkouts that inspired the rest of West Virginia. Similarly, in Arizona a key organizer from the militant minority was Rebecca Garelli. So powerful militant minorities usually consist of both socialists and non-ideological organic workplace leaders. Does the presence of a militant minority in West Virginia and Arizona explain why those strikes got better results than the walkout in Oklahoma?

Nevertheless, the Oklahoma strike was significantly weaker. But in the absence of previous knowledge of how you win a strike, they made some mistakes. In all three states, you had rank-and-file leaders trying to harness this incredible upsurge in teacher militancy, but that organic energy can play out in different ways.

You write in your book how, in Oklahoma, the two teacher Facebook groups had a skeptical orientation toward unions, but elsewhere the leaders who had militant union experience were able to point all the anger at the bosses instead of the unions. The union is what we collectively do, we need to push the union to represent us the way we want. Of course, the story is not as simple as rank-and-file good guys vs.

Especially in Arizona, the union played a strong role in following the energy of the rank and file. Can you talk about the relationship between union officials and the teachers during these strikes?


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In all three states, the push for the strike came from below, and the union officials were very reluctant at first, though they did eventually get on board. The participation of union officials and structures turned out to be necessary to win the strike, but they needed pressure from below. Unfortunately, after the strike, each of the unions in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona pivoted almost immediately back to their old lobbying strategy.

In the book, you have quotes from union officials openly admitting the rank-and-file radicals who pushed them were right all along, admitting they were wrong to be so conservative. The story you tell in Arizona and West Virginia shows radicals of various stripes, whether as ideological socialists or non-socialists, who understand class struggle unionism and its historical lessons, playing a decisive role in these strikes.

That begs the question of what lessons radicals should take from these facts.

Fightback!: The American Workers' Movement in the 1930s

You quote an Oklahoma DSA member heavily involved in strike support who realized he could have done more as a rank-and-file teacher fighting alongside his coworkers than as a supporter from the sidelines. The big lesson, I think, is that radicals should organize at our workplaces, and particularly that we should organize in strategic workplaces with unions that we can transform into fighting organizations.

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Broadly speaking, they believe and I agree that the most effective approach for radicals is generally to get a job in a strategic industry, with a union if possible, and to use your position as a rank-and-file activist to help build a fightback organization driven democratically by shop-floor workers. I never could have predicted just how much the teacher strikes would vindicate this strategy. This impact was made possible because these activists were in this very powerful center: a workplace can become the center of a powerful strike, which can become the center of an entire city and statewide struggle.

You rarely see this degree of impact in any other type of organizing. What advice do you have for other radicals who feel the same way? Richard Kahlenberg and Moshe Marvit advocate for union activists to be added as a protected class through an amendment to civil rights laws. They do us a favor by getting unions to think outside of the National Labor Relations Act for labor law reform.

But their proposal is still too limited. As union density has declined, the remaining unionized workplaces come to be seen as islands of relative privilege. Bosses and the media exploit this and try to whip up a degree of working-class support for stripping our last few rights away, seen most clearly seen in the public debate around teacher tenure protections which is simply the just cause standard by a different name. Imagine how quickly the debate would change if unions fought for and won meaningful job protections for all workers in a state!

To be meaningful, such just cause laws would have to include some kind of a court in which to hear cases. This could be as simple as mandating private mediation and arbitration or as complex as creating new state regulatory agencies to hear such cases. If workers did have a court in which they could defend their employment, unions would have something real to offer at-large members as a part of joining the union. And with that offer comes the potential for substantial membership growth. Unions have, for historical reasons, preferred to make their gains in contract bargaining.

The early labor movement, in the 19th century, did work to pass laws on wages, hours and factory conditions. As a result, unions across the political spectrum entered the 20th century with a profound distrust of government and political parties. Unions turned to their own collective bargaining for employer-sponsored benefits instead of the government.

Such efforts were initially a kind of stopgap measure, pursued in the meantime while hoping to eventually secure government-provided benefits. The labor movement that emerged in the post-war era had won a massive private welfare system for its members. With one in three workers in a union during the post-war period, even non-union employers had to try to match those benefits to remain competitive. This private welfare system worked for a generation, but it was all too vulnerable when less than one third of workers were organized to defend it.

The labor movements of other countries strike more of a balance between negotiating rights and benefits for their members and legislating them for all workers. This is particularly so in countries where unions formed labor parties or aligned with socialist parties. And when rights are enjoyed by all, they are defended by most. Think of France and the massive protests over austerity proposals to slash pensions and benefits in and Would you believe that French union density stands at a mere 7 percent?


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Unions tend to think of legislatively gained rights and benefits as easily lost if the wrong governor gets elected or a bad mid-term flips control of a statehouse. It is a way of broadening our base, opening wide the doors of our movement, to win and protect a standard of living that we all deserve.

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History of union busting in the United States

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I am real, which is why I am attracting your ire and criticism. But, you're doing it on a comment I wrote a year ago. Scalia has since passed away and the problem of five out of nine justices being from one gender, one party, and one church does not presently exist. That is a ridiculous lie. If Friedrichs is ever decided in favor of the workers, it assassinates nothing.

It merely empowers the working class to seek employment. You are very anti-worker, arrogant, and extreme.

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Then who watches the unions? Who whistleblows them? They are using millions of stolen dollars to wage war against any workers who stand up for their rights See Friedrichs. This is why right-to-work is strongly popular even among Democratic voters. This is why a large proportion of the public wants unions abolished. Stop fighting against workers. Start by allowing them a right to choose whether or not be in a union. As for "strikes" meaning you are too lazy to do your job and you quit it , there are plenty of real workers.

Real working class Americans.. There was nothing horrible about Citizens United. Unless you agree that it should be a crime to make a movie critical of one of our rulers.