A Strategy for Labor

A Strategy for Labor

This is a defining moment for the American labor movement—a moment ripe with opportunity and terror.

On the hopeful side, the AFL-CIO is finally moving again. The “new voices” leadership team of John Sweeney, Richard Trumka, and Linda Chavez-Thompson—which ran for office because, in Sweeney’s words, “organized labor is the only voice of American workers and their families, and because the silence [under Lane Kirkland] was deafening”—is making good on campaign promises to increase labor’s organizing expenditures; improve its public relations program and its political work; build the capacity of regional bodies (state federations, central labor councils); reach out to women and minorities; and remake the federation’s own organization, starting with the appointment of younger, smarter, more aggressive unionists to top staff positions. And as reform roils inside the AFL-CIO, labor is gaining a new public face. The “Union Summer” project that put 1,500 young interns into organizing and political drives over the past few months was a smashing public relations success—leading even Newsweek to conclude that “It’s Hip to Be Union.” The dozens of town hall meetings and rallies held as part of the “America Needs a Raise” campaign put more labor leadership in front of television cameras, speaking for broad working-class concerns, than at any time in living memory. And this November, a modernized political operation, spending $35 million on member education, hopes to end Republican control of the Congress. Labor is moving, showing some muscle, and feeling better about itself than it has in years.

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Lima