July 23, 2012
By Harry Kelber
“Leave behind what you know of’ “Robert’s Rules of Order” and structured union meetings. A new generation of labor leaders across the country is emerging to bring workers together in paintball machines, music festivals, trivia nights and pub crawls — all with an activist edge.” says an article in AFL-CIO NOW.
The brainchild for building a new labor movement based on young organizers with a novel, carefree approach to union-building is Elizabeth (Liz) Shuler, the AFL-CIO’s Secretary-Treasurer, who devoted herself almost exclusively for the past two years (when she was 39 and the youngest to hold that high office) to train young people to run the labor movement in future years. .
“It’s fun but with a serious side,” Shuler says, but she leaves a series of questions unanswered. What does their training as organizers consist of? How much time do they spend on “serious” subjects? What makes them future leaders of the labor movement? Who are their teachers and how are they tested?
How is their training superior to the know-how of their Daddies, many of whom are still employed as union organizers? We are entitled to these answers because our dues money is subsidizing Liz’s theory of how to create the labor movement of the future.
We are the first to admit that the AFL-CIO is a dying institution that cannot exist without a thorough overhaul of its structure, corruptive practices and its frozen leadership. But Liz’s project doesn’t discuss these issues, because she is an accessory to the Federation’s undemocratic practices and even profits from them.
If there is no systematic training of organizers, how will these young Liz protégés learn the art of dealing with non-union workers? It will not suffice to learn that young people have attended rallies and musical festivals and held meetings in various cities. That counts for little unless they can provide evidence that they have actually organized a corporation or are claiming they can.
It is absurd to limit union organizing only to the young, and shut out the tens of thousands of older labor activists who are involved in labor struggles. Why create a division between young and older organizers?
Young Workers Have Much to Learn from ‘Daddy’
Those who aspire to become union organizers should stop bragging about themselves and learn about the achievements of Daddy’s labor movement. .
It was Daddy’s labor movement in the decade of the Great Depression that unions fought for the creation of Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, the National Labor Relations Act, the Child Labor Act and the emergence of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, that enabled hundreds of thousands of working women and minorities to enjoy the benefits of unionism for the first time, These potential young organizers, who have yet to organize a major corporation ought to show a little more respect for Daddy.