The Center for American Progress held an event last week to discuss the new book by Andy Stern, A Country That Works. At the event, Stern discussed the central theme of his book, a calls for unions to “recognize competition” and adapt to the “global economy” by dropping demands for “trade barriers.”
Stern urges unions build a “global union movement” that can defend worker’s rights in the new economic environment. He also calls on unions to form “labor-management partnerships” in order to achieve their goals.
Stern used the event to deliver a critique of the ideas and strategies held by many of America’s labor unions. Under Stern’s direction, the SEIU split with the AFL-CIO in July 2005. Labor unions have traditionally called for the rollback of free trade agreements, arguing that they hurt manufacturing jobs. Stern, however, rejected calls for the reinstatement of “trade barriers,” shunning the protectionist and anti-globalization rhetoric usually associated with union leaders.
Stern called for the formation of a “global union movement” that works within the new economic realities. In his opinion, unions must first cooperate at the international level in order to achieve success in their own countries. Quoting The Communist Manifesto, he said that “Workers of the world, unite!” is “more than just a slogan.”
Stern believes, for example, that Chinese workers could cooperate with their American counterparts to fight for shared rights. He said that “if you put Chinese and American workers in the same room, you’ll see that their concerns and grievances are the same.” He also noted that China recently became the first country where Wal-Mart workers were able to form a union, and expressed hope that “a new paradigm of global unionism” would allow Wal-Mart’s workers to fight on “an international scale” against unfair labor practices.
“The era of strikes is over,” Stern emphasized. “Labor-management partnerships,” rather than strikes, are more effective methods of achieving worker’s rights in the postindustrial era in his opinion. Although union leaders commonly face accusations that they are too friendly with corporate executives, Stern seemed unafraid of such criticism. “The New Deal,” he bluntly stated, “is no longer alive.”
Andy Stern, President, Service Employees International Union, CLC and author of “A Country That Works: Getting America Back on Track”
Melody Barnes, Executive Vice President for Policy, Center for American Progress