Giant corporations have enormous economic and political power in American society. The power exercised by corporations weakens democracy in the United States. Within a capitalist society, the only reliable constraint upon corporate power is working class power. Unfortunately, the power of the American working class has steadily weakened over the past half century and no longer effectively limits corporate power. The weakening of the American working class is evident in both the decline of labor union membership and the virtual disappearance of strikes (essential instruments of working class power).
In 1952 about one-third of American workers were trade union members, and 470 strikes involving 1,000 or more workers occurred. By 2014, less than 7 percent of private sector workers were union members, and only 11 strikes involving more than 1,000 workers happened.
Many people think that the labor movement is essentially dead and cannot be resurrected. Professor Stanley Aronowitz, an eminent scholar of the American working class as well as an experienced labor organizer, thinks otherwise. In his 2014 book, “The Death and Life of American Labor,” Aronowitz analyzes why the labor movement declined and explains how it can be reborn. Some causes of the decline were largely beyond union control — changing technology, export of jobs, dominance of finance capital — but other causes derived from short-sighted union policies, such as expulsion of radicals, addiction to contract bargaining, reliance upon the Democratic Party, narrow political focus and reluctance to strike.
Aronowitz proposes a 10-point program to build a new and more dynamic labor movement:
1) When bargaining over wages and working conditions, rely upon working class power and — if possible — avoid signing a formal agreement. Definitely avoid a no-strike pledge.
2) Fight for shorter working hours — a six hour day — using both legislative initiatives and direct action.
3) Campaign for a guaranteed annual income that is sufficient to live on.
4) Work for single-payer health care in alliance with other progressive organizations.
5) Establish credit unions that finance producer and consumer co-ops. Food-related co-ops are especially important.
6) Challenge existing labor bureaucracy by creating radical new unions.
7) Eliminate all manifestations of racial, gender, and ethnic discrimination in hiring, wages, and promotion.
8) Organize part-time, temporary and insecure workers.
9) Work for union democracy in part by allying with existing “workers centers” and other labor organizations that emphasize direct action rather than contract bargaining.
10) Build a truly global labor movement by supporting working class struggles in China, India, Greece, Russia, Mexico, Brazil and other countries.
Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center’s “Peace Train” runs every Friday in the Colorado Daily.