Hofstra University Professor Calls for “Civil Disobedience” to Save Big Labor

University Professor Alan Singer, recommends breaking laws in light to Big Labor’s declining membership, and the Harris v. Quinn Supreme Court decision, in huffingtonpost.com

The entire organized labor movement is in a prolonged state of decline, especially in the private sector as industrial jobs are shipped overseas and retail employers like Walmart and McDonalds remain staunchly anti-union. The United States Supreme Court is now considering a case, Harris v. Quinn, where the decision could seriously weaken, if not destroy, all public employee unions. Appearing before the court, William Messenger of the rightwing National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, argued that the Supreme Court should reverse the 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education decision and declare government workers cannot be required to pay dues to unions that represent them in collective bargaining negotiations. In the private sector, new manufacturing jobs in the United States and efforts to preserve old jobs have often hinged on the willingness of workers to accept below union standard wages, benefits, and safety regulations.

To counter these trends, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, a former President of the United Mine Workers Union, recently announced a bold plan to reverse organized labor’s long slide. He wants the AFL-CIO to welcome nonunion workers as well as environmental, immigrant, and other advocacy groups such as the NAACP, the Sierra Club, the National and MomsRising, either as formal partners or affiliate, into the labor union federation. His goal is to build a broad coalition to advance worker-friendly political and economic agenda and in a speech before the AFL-CIO national convention, Trumka declared, “If you work for a living in this country, our movement is your movement.”

AFL-CIO affiliates now have 13 million members, but as Trumka conceded, that is a small fraction of the 150 million workers in the United States. Trumka told union members, “We cannot win economic justice only for ourselves, for union members alone. It would not be right and it’s not possible. All working people will rise together, or we will keep falling together.” But it is not clear to me if this can be done by inviting other groups to join the AFL-CIO, rather than having the AFL-CIO become willing to join with them on a more or less equal footing in a larger coalition. Non-union workers and activists have no reason to believe a junior partnership within the AFL-CIO will earn them any benefits or political clout. Only aggressive action is going to save the American labor movement.

When laws are made by the rich and powerful to serve their interests, organized workers need to stop obeying the laws.  Unions need to have muscle, they need to be willing to strike, they need to be willing to defy unjust laws, they need to welcome new members and not just represent those who hold onto relatively privileged better-paying jobs, and to they need to be more responsive to their members and potential members.