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Progressivism on Tap: The State of the Unions

Harold Meyerson Speaks at a Progressivism on Tap Event

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Progressivism on Tap’s fifth season kicked off with a visit from Harold Meyerson, editor-at-large of The American Prospect and op-ed columnist at The Washington Post. Meyerson spoke about the labor movement’s difficult position in contemporary politics and the necessity to forge global coalitions for workers’ rights and better living standards. Meyerson focused on the critical lack of media coverage of labor today, noting that he is one of only two reporters covering labor full-time. The lack of attention to working Americans’ needs translates into indifference among much of the political class, which in turn worsens labor’s position in the country by promoting policies that restrict organizing and social protections for workers.

Meyerson argued that the labor movement’s great hope was that the Obama administration would be able to make changes to labor law, especially in the area of private-sector organizing. “By and large labor’s energies were focused there,” said Meyerson. He says labor law reform has been on the labor movement’s “wish list since the 60s.” But there has been little to no movement on advancing the Employee Free Choice Act and other measures that would help bolster labor’s ranks.

He also noted that there’s been less organizing of new workers outside of public employees in the past two years than at any other time he can recall. As the global economy continues to shape the relationship between capital and labor, the labor movement itself will need to shift strategies to organize new workers, press for better wages and work standards, and to create better representation through institutions like works councils. The AFL-CIO, the CWA, and the SEIU have all launched successful international partnerships and campaigns to advance the interests of workers across the globe by both pressing and working cooperatively with global companies like Deutsche Telekom, Sodexo, and ArcelorMittal.

Meyerson concludes in a special report on the rising globalism of labor, “Increasingly, unions realize that if they are to preserve, much less expand, the gains they’ve made over the past 60 years, they must unite across borders. That’s not to say they can, and that’s not to say they will, but at least they know they must.”

Read about more Progressivism on Tap events here.

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This is part of a regular column: Progressivism on Tap

For more from the same column, click here