Secretary Treasurer of the Service Employees International Union Anna Burger spoke to a standing room only crowd on Monday night at the third installment of the Center for American Progress’s Progressivism on Tap series. She spoke about her past as an activist, the importance of organizing workers worldwide, and the close bond that progressives share with the labor movement.
She addressed the role of unions today saying that organizers should not focus solely on increasing their membership or providing a decent working environment in their individual firms. Unions must rather work for a more just society as a whole if they are to remain relevant in the dynamic and relentless global economy. That is why the SEIU has strongly supported current initiatives such as health care improvements, environmental sustainability, and financial reform.
Burger described how the union movement has taken a blow in recent years as employers have begun to crack down on anyone who would move to form or join a union. Burger noted that the obstacles, which range from firing individual employees to disbanding entire workforces, “are not just unfair—they’re brutal.” This is why she and the SEIU have come out solidly in favor of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would prevent employers from threatening to fire workers who seek to organize. Burger also affirmed the SEIU’s strong support for financial regulatory reform, stating outright that, “if banks are too big to fail, they’re too big, period.”
There is a bright future ahead for the labor movement. The Internet is making it easier to connect to a broad network of organizers worldwide. The election of a progressive president and Congress has opened the door to changes that some wouldn’t have thought possible just a few years ago. And the final ingredient, according to Burger, is us. We must all become activists and work hard for progressive change if we are to lay the foundation for a better society for future generations.
PROGRESSIVISM ON TAP is a lecture and discussion series founded by the Progressive Studies Program at the Center for American Progress, focused on the history and intellectual traditions of progressivism and liberalism. The goal of PROGRESSIVISM ON TAP is to provide an informal forum for budding activists and professionals to explore the political values and theoretical debates within the broader progressive tradition and to apply those lessons to contemporary political discourse.
The speakers, lectures, and debates covered within the series are designed to examine why we believe what we believe as progressives, who the most important thinkers and icons are within the movement’s history, where progressives differ on intellectual grounds, and what the theoretical foundations are for many of our current policy and activism efforts.
We aim to help young people and activists engage their traditions not just in Washington but in other similar programs with progressives in communities across the country. As the program develops, we hope to help others launch PROGRESSIVISM ON TAP salons in cities and towns across the country in local settings that are relaxed, inviting, informative, deliberative, and open to new ideas.