Our Imperfect Unions

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Description: In Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path Toward Social Justice (University of California), Bill Fletcher Jr., a veteran union official and leftist activist, and Fernando Gapasin, a former academic and central labor council president, call for a new "social justice unionism." And in U.S. Labor in Trouble and Transition: The Failure of Reform from Above, the Promise of Revival from Below (Verso), Kim Moody, founder of the Labor Notes newsletter and an educator, argues for a "democratic social movement unionism."Neither book portrays the AFL-CIO under President John Sweeney's reform team-or the split-off Change to Win unions-as offering satisfactory solutions to labor's crisis. Moody sees both as failures of reform from above-in contrast with the upsurge from below, which he views as the only road to progress. Fletcher and Gapasin show more sympathy to Sweeney's efforts and more understanding of the obstacles he faced (such as the failure of unions to agree on a stronger role for a labor federation to play). In general, they offer a more nuanced view of how unions and their leaders-even some rank-and-file reformers-become conservative, and argue against simply blaming "mis-leaders" for problems.Moody's emphasis on manufacturing and direct power at work also contrasts with Fletcher and Gapasin's analysis. They argue that since class conflict ranges far beyond the workplace, unions must go beyond it as well, especially by creating stronger local institutions (such as turning existing central labor union councils into broader working peoples' assemblies).
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