Union leaders and activists from around the country in Los Angeles on Sept. 8 for the AFL-CIO Convention will get a close look at a regional labor movement with membership numbers holding steady or even slightly increasing.
Compare this with much of the United States where the percentage of workers represented by unions is dropping rapidly and persistently.
Los Angeles, more than most cities (and California, more than most states), has stayed a step ahead of an employer-class determined to cleanse the global economy of collective worker power.
Credit Los Angeles and statewide unions for building tightly-run coalitions with immigrant rights and economic justice groups, its brassy leadership and an electoral strategy, which—so far, at least—has beaten back anti-union measures like Prop. 32.
AFL-CIO delegates from the de-industrialized Midwest, by contrast, have been facing relentless attacks from Republican governors and legislatures fronting “right to work” drives and laws restricting public employee bargaining rights.
Will unions in Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio—without the advantages of California’s dynamic and diverse economy and political culture—ever find their way back?
No one at the convention will deny the existential crises plaguing America's labor movement. But, as always, there are hopeful signs, and the AFL-CIO will have some positive notes to hit:
- One of the largest national unions will be rejoining the fold, [the 1.3 million-member United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW)].
- For the first time in 10 years, there’s a fully functioning National Labor Relations Board (five Senate-confirmed members), although some of the board’s pro-union decisions and rule making could be voided next year if the Supreme Court finds President Obama’s previous recess appointments unconstitutional.
- Union-funded Alt-Labor campaigns, on behalf of minimum wage workers, are gaining national attention.
Of course, there will be a lot of talk among delegates about widening income inequality, obstructionist Republicans and a White House and administration whose actions on behalf of workers don’t measure up.
Another theme for “true believers” is how to keep the flame hot until America's wage-earners recognize that economic justice won’t come without a fight. In other words, laying the groundwork for that future labor movement, whatever it may look like.