Labor activist urges “innovation” in workers' rights organizing

Bill Fletcher Jr. spoke at "Labor at the Crossroads" on March 7.

Even as renowned labor activist Bill Fletcher Jr. geared up for a talk last Thursday to describe the dire situation he believes the labor movement is facing, local organizers had victories to celebrate.

Fletcher joined organizers from the Filipino Community Center, OUR Walmart, PODER and POWER for a March 7 forum hosted by San Francisco Jobs With Justice, called “Labor at the Crossroads.”

Prior to the discussion, Fletcher told the Guardian he believes the national labor movement is witnessing a “final offensive” from big business and right-wing interests, and “an attempt to destroy unions altogether.” He also criticized a reluctance among national labor leaders to openly recognize the gravity of the situation. Fletcher’s latest book, published last August, is titled They’re Bankrupting Us, and 20 Other Myths About Unions.

Fletcher said he believes labor should place less emphasis on “being invited to this or that social occasion,” and more on reaching out to community-based organizations to foster movement building. He said he thought there was a need for “innovation” by organized labor, such as forging alliances with the unemployed, or reaching out to under-employed workers earning low wages in retail positions. “The labor movement grew by being audacious … by making the comfortable uncomfortable,” he said.

Despite Fletcher’s bleak portrait and the generally discouraging trends of the day, such as the impacts of the sequester, an international move toward austerity and stubbornly high unemployment in the United States, representatives from San Francisco Jobs with Justice nevertheless were able to point to some recent worker victories.

Many San Franciscans who gathered for “Labor at the Crossroads” were encouraged by successful negotiations that resulted in what they viewed as a much-improved deal for the San Francisco CPMC hospital project, which included stronger local hiring requirements and other items labor and community organizers had fought for.

Organizers also applauded last month’s Chinese Progressive Association victory against Dick Lee Pastry on behalf of workers subjected to wage-theft violations. The San Francisco Chinatown restaurant was forced to pay a whopping $525,000 in back wages and penalties.

At the state level, the California Domestic Workers’ Coalition kicked off its mobilization last week in Los Angeles urging passage of the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, authored by Assembly Member Tom Ammiano. The legislation would extend basic labor protections to housekeepers, childcare workers and caregivers, who collectively represent a primarily immigrant workforce. At the national level, momentum is starting to build around the Fair Minimum Wage Act, with supporters calling on lawmakers to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

“The union movement should be helping unemployed workers get organized, fight back and fight for jobs,” Fletcher said. “There is no significant organization of the unemployed – no significant force that has taken up this issue and said, we need to build a mass movement around jobs.”

He urged local organizers to identify priorities. “We have to go forward with, what is the vision?” he said. “What do the people of Oakland and San Francisco need?”


Rather the idea of a "movement" is itself a doomed concept. The idea that everyone who works is part of something else is flawed. People work to make money, find satisfaction and develop personally. They like working and they live their employer.

To subjugate all that to some kind of political "movement" disrespects the vast majority of people who just go to work and try and do their best, rather than constantly trying to get somethingh for nothing by regarding their employer as some kind of enemy.

Unions have been declining for decades for one and only one reason - they are tired of this "us against them" class warfare mentality. They want prosperity to derive from their own effort and not from some collective bargaining predicated on confrontation. American workers do not think that way.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 11, 2013 @ 1:41 pm

"They like working and they live their employer." et seq.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 11, 2013 @ 3:35 pm

refutation to the major premise being argued that most American workers do not see themselves as in a "struggle" with their employers? Nor see them as oppressors as the class warriors would have us believe?

That type of quasi-Marxist thinking has been in decline since the middle of the last century.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 11, 2013 @ 3:51 pm

Here's a tip: if you want to make more money, provide more value. If the minimum wage is raised to $x, anyone who can't do work worth $x will not be hired.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 12, 2013 @ 8:06 am

Here's a tip: if you want to make more money, provide more value. If the minimum wage is raised to $x, anyone who can't do work worth $x will not be hired.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 12, 2013 @ 8:06 am

Here's a tip: if you want to make more money, provide more value. If the minimum wage is raised to $x, anyone who can't do work worth $x will not be hired.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 12, 2013 @ 8:08 am

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