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Wed Feb 6, 2013, 08:13 PM


I thought this highlighted some positive developments in working class solidarity. The ending is a little more pessimistic than I think is warranted, but I thought folks might be interested in this here. I wish I could post more than four paras, check it out when you have a moment.



The ROC is a labor group. But it’s not a union. It represents a new face of the U.S. labor movement—an often-ignored, little-understood array of groups organizing workers without the union label. As unions face declining membership these workers’ groups—like the mostly union-free job sectors they organize—are on the rise, particularly in New York. Because of their efforts, more restaurant workers in the city get paid sick days, domestic workers receive overtime pay, and taxi drivers will soon have health insurance.

Twenty years ago, when Rutgers labor professor Janice Fine first set out to count the nonunion groups that were organizing and mobilizing workers, she found just five in the entire country. Today, her tally stands at 214. These groups organize farmworkers and fashion models. They go by names like “workers’ centers” and “workers’ alliances.” Some are rooted in the immigrant-rights movement as much as the labor movement. Lacking the ability to engage in collective bargaining or enforce union contracts, these alternative labor groups rely on an overlapping set of other tactics to reform their industries. The ROC teaches workers their rights and also restaurant skills; advises and publicizes model employers; and helps organize protests like the ones at Capital Grille, making customers aware of what goes on behind the dining room. The ROC also lobbies state and local lawmakers for reforms and helps workers take legal action when all else fails.


There’s another reason for the rise of alt-labor: For an increasing number of U.S. workers, unions are not even an option. Labor law denies union rights to increasingly significant sectors of the workforce, including so-called independent contractors and domestic workers, whose numbers are expected to double as baby boomers enter elder care. In 1989, the United States had twice as many manufacturing jobs as service-sector jobs; now the numbers are nearly equal. But many corners of the service sector are virtually union-free—even where, as in restaurants, workers have the right to organize.

At first, traditional unions dismissed alt-labor efforts. Now many have come to recognize workers’ groups for what they are: part of the labor movement. The AFL-CIO and its local unions and labor councils have increasingly been funding, collaborating with, and rallying beside their alt-labor counterparts. The country’s other major labor federation, Change to Win, and its affiliates have also been supporting and partnering with alt-labor groups. Those efforts burst into the headlines with strikes by Wal-Mart employees and fast-food workers last fall. “Workers’ centers are movements in search of institutions,” says Ana Avendaño, who directs immigration and community policy for the AFL-CIO. “And our unions are often institutions in search of movements.”


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Reply Alt-Labor (Original post)
Starry Messenger Feb 2013 OP
Teamster Jeff Feb 2013 #1
Starry Messenger Feb 2013 #2
limpyhobbler Feb 2013 #3
Starry Messenger Feb 2013 #6
jtuck004 Feb 2013 #4
Starry Messenger Feb 2013 #5
jtuck004 Feb 2013 #7
Starry Messenger Feb 2013 #8
jtuck004 Feb 2013 #9
limpyhobbler Feb 2013 #10
jtuck004 Feb 2013 #11
limpyhobbler Feb 2013 #12
jtuck004 Feb 2013 #13

Response to Starry Messenger (Original post)

Wed Feb 6, 2013, 08:27 PM

1. K&R.. Whatever works

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Response to Teamster Jeff (Reply #1)

Wed Feb 6, 2013, 08:46 PM

2. Yep.

I hope we see more of it. Broadening out to community groups seems to be the trend. And who says that this can't lead to further unionism?

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Response to Starry Messenger (Original post)

Thu Feb 7, 2013, 02:37 PM

3. Cool article

The unions are so limited in what they can do so this kind of organizing is vital. It goes back to the issue of repealing Taft-Hartley to cut the hand cuffs off and give the unions more of a fighting chance. It also ties in with that recent People's World article you posted talking about 'big picture unionism'. How to make a sense of common purpose and class solidarity across all the various smaller organizations that are springing up. And from there more coordination between the groups to really push forward on class issues, like repealing Taft-Hartley, real universal health care, debt reform, and stuff like that.

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Response to limpyhobbler (Reply #3)

Thu Feb 7, 2013, 05:34 PM

6. I liked the point that non-union workers' groups can shift around Taft-Hartley too.

Another speaker at the talk I went to in LA said that short-term alliances used to be all the unions would do, but now there is a push for permanent relationships. Community councils with union leaders, church leaders, worker coalitions that are non-union putting leaders on there, are starting to be more common.

There was just a big project that happened with the rehab of the Port of Oakland with the old military base. It went from a top-down plan from the politicians that included some tone-deaf proposals like an amusement park, to a community-driven partnership that is bringing a new shipping distribution center to the area.

Building trade unions worked with the community and together they banned the requirement that workers with felonies on their record have to report that status on job applications, a demand that jobs in the site are all living wage jobs, and an apprenticeship program for young people in the neighborhoods. Most of the jobs are required to be nearly all priority local hire too. There was more, but those are the biggies. Oh, and an oversight council that will make sure these things are honored, with people from all the groups who worked together.

More unions are taking this project as a model for how to do sustained permanent projects in communities. It's really amazing! </labor nerd>

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Response to Starry Messenger (Original post)

Thu Feb 7, 2013, 05:00 PM

4. "The ending is a little more pessimistic than I think is warranted" ?


Where do you see hope in organizing a union to continue to ask Mr. Charlie for something, please? And who is going to pay for it? A bunch of unemployed people and service folks who more than a few people don't even feel connected enough with to leave a tip? Not much power there, (not to knock down their hard work and sacrifice) and in the larger scheme of things the workers are still being taken advantage of at every other turn. This almost just makes it possible for them to continue as debt-slaves to financial firms. That's about as free as one of those old mining donkeys in Colorado.

The strategy of the past has done nothing but keep him Mr. C. in power for a hundred years, imho. Most people are losing wealth, burning up savings, gaining more debt, watching their wages lower by 35% or more, millions thrown out of their homes and jobs, shit for opportunity, with almost nothing else that can be pointed to (without dreaming) in store for the next 20 or 30 years, at least.

Unless something changes. Disaster always changes things, though I am not sure of "better". But say the lights stay on and we go forward, I only see two real possibilities.

1) Most everyone has been trained to work for Mr. Charlie without complaint, so perhaps we come up with something new to exploit, or a way to use up a lot of people to exploit it. Then we can have growth in unions run by some traitor like Gompers who helps business exploit workers in the name of the union while giving the workers back some pittance of what they earned. Then we can repeat the last hundred years over the next hundred and wind up controlled by the few capitalists again.

2) This is where my optimism is. There is history and proof that someone can organize and train some portion of the 26 million people who say they need work today into cooperatives that can begin to own their own assets, so they no longer have to ask as much.

What else is there?

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Response to jtuck004 (Reply #4)

Thu Feb 7, 2013, 05:22 PM

5. We build broad-based coalitions.

That's always effective. We build what we can under capitalism as workers, to resist the complete takeover by fascism, which is a danger in the phase we are in with acute crisis all over the globe.

I'm in the labor movement. It's slow, it requires patience and a willingness to keep slogging away.

The labor leaders of today are far more progressive than Gompers. The programs unions are working on now are not only for union members at all, but issues like immigration and voting rights.

If one is looking for overnight changes, then no, that isn't going to happen. The development of capitalism in every state has a different trajectory and stage of development. Different sectors of workers have different needs at this time.

People are becoming more aware of the nature of their exploitation. It is our job to struggle with them to get what they need to keep strong and keep fighting, and to put the struggle into context.

Otherwise, what are we here for?

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Response to Starry Messenger (Reply #5)

Thu Feb 7, 2013, 09:53 PM

7. "Otherwise, what are we here for?" To win?


But it sounds like either too many people enjoy the "struggle", or are using it as a dodge to keep from actually accomplishing change?

What is winning in this book? Some paltry little raise or health care? Are standards that low? At what point do they gain as much power as owners? What's the plan to get there. Because if there isn't one, what would be the point?

Overnight? It's been a hundred freakin' years. That sounds like avoiding responsibility. In relative terms it seems like workers are almost as powerless as they were a hundred years ago. I mean, they get food stamps and unemployment where it can't be avoided, but after a hundred years of struggle they are still groveling, asking. They are less united after all that hard work than they have been in a long, long time. Still asking "Please, pretty please Mr. Charlie, with sugar on top".

That's not progress.

Immigration and voting rights? I see where they are related, but I suspect the bosses would rather have people working on that than teaching them accounting and business ownership. Seriously? Not ownership? Not sure that's better than Gompers, just different.

I'm not dissing your work, or the importance of it, but I am trying to find anyone that is doing anything to stop supporting the same system we have always had, because it's broken. I see where some improvements are made, but it seems workers are still left in a position of being nearly as vulnerable as they were before they put their ass on the line. (You aren't the first I have asked these questions of, but it usually degenerates into their being all defensive. With good reason, I think, but that often becomes nothing more than avoidance of a serious look at what they are doing, I think). That doesn't say much for all the "work" that's gone on before, the people who sacrificed literally everything to get to a point where workers with a state law (from the article referenced in the OP) have to enforce it themselves? That's pathetic.

If they aren't any better than they were, I don't see it as any different from Gompers goals of subservience. So maybe nothing has really changed, just a lot of busy work under the bridge, so to speak.

So just asking questions...

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Response to jtuck004 (Reply #7)

Thu Feb 7, 2013, 10:36 PM

8. The ruling class struggles to overturn all of those supports won by the workers.

If they felt it was insignificant they wouldn't bother.

I can't answer your questions. The only way to know how it works is to be in there in the struggle.

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Response to Starry Messenger (Reply #8)

Thu Feb 7, 2013, 11:45 PM

9. Uh, hundreds of millions are in the struggle. <G>


Oh yeah, and I didn't say it was insignificant, but that's one way to take it.

Take care.

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Response to jtuck004 (Reply #7)

Fri Feb 8, 2013, 01:12 AM

10. So I would say,

We all might want something else. Like workers control of the means of production, or however one phrases it. But we have no power. In order to get there people would first need to organize to build the kind of workers power and community power that would make it possible for people to picture other alternatives. So that's how I read the article. It's just people getting organized.

But there does seem to be a danger of getting caught in some kind reformist trap. Just try not to get stuck in that I guess. I don't think there's any way of really getting around step of organizing around work issues like getting sick days and overtime pay, more money, stuff like that. But to avoid getting stuck on just that stuff, people have to do the additional steps of also trying to put the effort in a more big-picture perspective, building class awareness, and stitching the various local groups together somehow.

In other words, think globally, act locally.

ymmv, I'm just saying it as one idea.

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Response to limpyhobbler (Reply #10)

Fri Feb 8, 2013, 10:07 AM

11. Unions were a great thing when they arrived, as long as we had material to exploit


and labor was willing to take a little bit more than the meager share they got in the past century, unions could survive from the largesse. So business, the government they bought, and their friends at the "business unions" like the AF of L killed off or ruined most of those who threatened to actually teach the workers something other than doing what they were told, including a few communists. And here we are, with a huge surplus of labor here for which there are no jobs, and forecasts showing this extending to at least 2020, with wage depression continuing for millions of people. Organizing into that as opposed to a manufactured prosperity is likely to be fruitless over the long term.

I was talking with someone who said they were picketing a factory which was likely to close down, losing their jobs. I asked what their plan was, they said if this closes they will go to the next one until it closes. Etc.

Sad. Seems like at least trying to pool their resources and see if they can figure out some kind of cooperative effort might be a better way? Similar to a Mondragon Cooperative, perhaps, but a version that works in the U.S..

Unless workers get equal with people who own the assets, which won't happen until workers own assets as well, this is little more than a merry-go-round. I guess one could keep thinking they can vote their way to success, pound themselves on the back for a successful campaign. But while they are doing that the wealthy are walking away with the bank, even today.

So I was just trying to learn what different people's goals are in organizing.

I do wonder if unions could create math, biology, engineering colleges (something that would help in our future) all over, free or really low cost, train up all their members in the R&D that might bring them some real competitiveness. Maybe even open little community manufacturing facilities where a business plan shows it's feasible. Their competition, (everyone's competition) is now global. Regardless of what they do, there is a better option than the several unions who had to turn out their lights.


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Response to jtuck004 (Reply #11)

Fri Feb 8, 2013, 05:09 PM

12. I really do agree that

people should take over ownership and managing their workplaces. Without that we're always going to be stuck. How to get there is the tricky part I guess.

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Response to limpyhobbler (Reply #12)

Fri Feb 8, 2013, 05:25 PM

13. Absolutely - "How to get there is the tricky part I guess."


Business courses, future stuff, robotics, hydraulics, communication, finance - aka "how to steal from working people 101", STEM kinds of things, learning labs, loose, freely in the community. Figure out some kind of funding mechanism free from the financiers and they could open like free roaming intact cats breed. Oh, and start a credit union that agrees with your philosophy, unless you can get a fair voice in one that already exists.

We have money to fund it with. Instead of our Administration and Congress paying wealthy people $40 billion a month so their mortgage-backed assets won't fail while we yank 50,000 families out of their homes each month, and giving banks interest-free loans so they make money by finding ways to take it from those who really earned it while the number of working poor and those on food stamps increase, we could finance something like that with those funds, eh?

Put people ahead of the dollar like Lincoln suggested.

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