The Sum of Organized Labor’s Parts

Starbucks Ueno

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Playing off what I was talking about yesterday, this sounds like a sensible way to rejigger traditional labor tactics for the modern economy:

But forget about the past. What can the new I.W.W. tell us about organizing? The Starbucks campaign builds upon 2 key tenets of the old I.W.W. with great relevance to the present. First, it organizes industry wide. Understanding that one shop within the larger Starbucks empire has little meaning, the I.W.W. seeks to build solidarity between workplaces in order to build solidarity and gain additional power.

Second, the Wobblies focus heavily on worker education. One of the real weaknesses of the modern labor movement is a lack of emphasis on educating workers about their own workplace, how unions fit into a larger economic and social justice world, and building workplace democracy. The I.W.W. model is better than the AFL-CIO on all these fronts. Here there is real potential for unions outside the AFL-CIO structure to build quality organizations. The I.W.W. is rebuilding worker education centers and emphasizing larger ideas of workplace justice in its Starbucks campaign.

What most interests me here is the emphasis on worker education, particularly regarding those “larger ideas.” Yesterday I argued that unions need to pitch their indispensability as instruments of procedural justice in the workplace. The good folks at the I.W.W. seem to be thinking along similar, if not identical, lines.

As well they should. This is the stuff of movements, no? If local unions restrict their vision to local issues without articulating a broader philosophy of workers’ rights, then there is no “labor movement.” You’ve just got a bunch of unions all doing their own thing.

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