Author: Bill Fletcher, Jr

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a long-time labor activist and writer. He is the author of three books on labor. He served as Assistant to AFL-CIO President John Sweeney from 1999-2001 and has worked for several labor unions.

Responses to “Careful What You Wish For”

[Responses to “Careful What You Wish For”]

Response by Bill Fletcher, Jr

Lance Compa has written a compelling critique of many of the approaches, so often advanced, toward resolving the crisis facing organized labor. His critique is one that addresses sites of potential growth; techniques for renewal; as well as what might be described as reverse apocalypse-ism (i.e., the worse things get, the better they will be for those of us trying to advance a new, progressive direction).

While I agree with much of Compa’s argument, I believe that the problem facing organized labor has not been properly contextualized either by Compa or by many of those he is critiquing. The challenges facing organized labor must be understood to exist in the very foundation of US trade unionism (and to some extent, the trade unionism of the advanced capitalist states). The challenges cannot be resolved through new techniques or even through greater “political will”. The challenges must be addressed by rethinking what we mean by trade unionism.

As Compa notes, unions are organizations of workers fighting for basic fairness. Yet this is not enough. Unions are potentially organs of class struggle and a movement for social justice. While they are not, nor should they ever aspire to being political parties, there is nothing that ipso facto constrains them to the fight for wages, hours and working conditions except the ideological framework within which they have been operating.

The union movement in the USA is facing potential annihilation because of the fact that (1) the dominant sectors of capital (and their political allies) no longer see any particular need for any degree of class compromise with the working class, and (2) the leaders and large sections of the memberships of organized labor believe their role is that of a trade association or lobby on behalf of the interests of their membership. One must hasten to add, of course, that the framework of the trade union movement was one adopted by a unified trade union movement in the context of the smashing of its left-wing in the late 1940s/early 1950s, and its adamant opposition to change in the late 1960s/early 1970s.

Experiments in new forms of organization, e.g., NY Taxi Workers Alliance; National Domestic Workers Alliance, are critical because they have begun to elaborate a new vision. These formations in so-called Alt-labor are in some cases challenging legal restrictions on who can organize (e.g., Taxi Workers Alliance), while in other cases are advancing the interests of the workers in a broader context of the industry and the clients (e.g., NDWA). One can contrast these Alt-labor experiments with the largely failed efforts by established unions to utilize their “associate member” programs to grow, programs that lacked an overall strategy and vision and were fundamentally instrumental.

Lance Compa is correct that we cannot run away from the need for organizations of workers in their workplaces and industries. Where he falls short, however, is in failing to identify the need for a new brand of social justice unionism with the objective of joining with other progressive movements in an effort aimed at broad social transformation.

Response by Steve Lerner

I share Lance Compa’s frustration with the “unions are doomed chorus” and his skepticism that there is an “innovation” or “app” that will miraculously rebuild unions. But I am also perplexed by his assertions that the NLRA is the best path for workers to organize unions and build workplace power. The experience of the last 30 years is the opposite. Some of unions’ few organizing successes were won by bypassing NRLB elections through neutrality card check agreements. UniteHere, and SEIU’s Justice for Janitors campaign are two examples of this.

Compa dismisses all experiments and “alt-labor” as ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst. After tossing them aside he doesn’t offer any new ideas of what unions should do beyond staying the course. He offers no critique of how unions contributed to their own decline, and no new strategies or tactics that labor could adopt.
We need an analysis and vision of how workers can win in an economy where wealth and power are increasingly concentrated at the top, while work is outsourced, subcontracted and disaggregated at the bottom, with many workers not having an employer under the NLRA at all.

We need to broaden the scope of collective bargaining and collective action to focus on the super-rich and corporations whose names are rarely on workers’ paychecks. They have the power not only over our jobs and pay but also over housing costs, education, and government budgets. Our challenge is to figure out who controls our jobs and communities and to build power to force them to bargain over wages and to stop them from extracting wealth from our communities. To do this we have to:

– Be willing to break laws to change laws: The CIO, the civil rights, gay rights, immigrant rights, and marijuana legalization movements and most recently Black Lives Matter, have all violated existing laws as part of building deeply committed bases winning victories, and ultimately, better laws.

– Reinvent the strike to disrupt the real corporate decision makers. Striking workers and their allies using creative non-violence can dramatically impact the business operations of the entities that control their wages and work-even if they aren’t the “legal” employer.

– Collective Action and Bargaining is not just for workers. Re-popularize collective action and bargaining as the way to confront concentrated economic power. New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago do $600 billion a year in business with Wall Street; they can leverage this money to bargain for lower interest rates and to reduce exorbitant fees charged by Wall Street, freeing up resources to fund public services and workers. Corinthian students are already using a debt strike to force negotiations over the $1.3 trillion in student debt.

There is no secret sauce or shortcut to challenging the richest and most powerful corporations in modern history. Nor can we do more of the same and expect a better result. Anger at growing inequality and corporate abuses creates enormous opportunities to rebuild workers’ power-let’s seize it by looking to the future not trying to recreate the past.

Response by Amy Dean

In this time of drastic economic restructuring of the employment relationship, it is more important than ever that labor vigorously debate and experiment with new models of employee representation. Both the economic and political landscapes in which Americans work have been dramatically altered in the last twenty years. The movement must be ready to adapt to these sea changes.

Lance Compa critiques a wide variety of different approaches that labor advocates have been advancing in recent years, and he is certainly correct that not all of these tactics have equal merit. But he does not offer a coherent alternative and instead seems to be arguing that the labor movement should just soldier on without making any significant changes. There is, quite simply, no way to rebuild exactly the models of unionism that won such brilliant gains in the mid-20th century. America’s economy has been too dramatically transformed since then.

Of the different tactics Compa critiques, alt-labor is certainly one that deserves defense. In the 1930s the experimentation and innovation of the industrial labor organizers was also denounced as a waste of time and resources. The auto and steel workers of the New Deal era were not building their labor organizations in the way that such things had traditionally been orchestrated. But when the massive worker unrest of that decade surged, those CIO unions and the organizational models they championed were there waiting to be picked up and expanded upon.

Today efforts like OUR Wal-Mart and Fast Food Forward are experimenting with new forms of organizing to adapt to the decentralized economy. The funding for these efforts comes from existing unions, but so too did the money for the Steel Workers’ Organizing Committee come from other CIO unions. And like the Justice for Janitors model that won such powerful victories in the 1990s and 2000s, these campaigns focus not on the contractors and other middle men being squeezed by corporate giants, but on the client companies themselves. Already, real gains have been won both legislatively, as the $15 minimum wage spreads, and in individual stores where fired workers have been rehired.

Moreover, alt-labor organizations such as the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the National Taxi Workers Alliance offer protections to workers who, voluntarily or not, work outside the umbrella of one long-term employment relationship. These groups represent workers who are more contingent, not tied down to a particular employer, and are perhaps misclassified as independent contractors: They cannot only organize workers through a specific employer, but along occupational lines. In these cases the locus of organizing must shift from a single employer to an entire industry. The AFL-CIO has acknowledged the legitimacy and importance of these organizations, allowing them to affiliate with the federation—a radical move that would have been unthinkable ten years ago.

Compa’s essay does not adequately acknowledge that the “conventional unions” he champions are existentially beset by overwhelmingly powerful political and economic forces. New forms of organizing, like Fast Food Forward or the Taxi Workers Alliance, must be an integral part of labor’s strategy moving forward. We can, and we must, experiment with new forms of organizing while also defending the remaining “conventional unions” that Compa holds up as our only option.

Response by Chris Maisano

I was disappointed by Lance Compa’s essay in defense of conventional U.S. trade unionism. Existing unions must be defended with all the means at our disposal, but that doesn’t mean we should stop criticizing their many weaknesses and shortcomings — many of which are self-inflicted — or refrain from exploring and testing out different approaches to building worker power. The big bangs of worker organizing in the twentieth century rested on new organizational forms, adapted to the needs of workers and the nature of capitalism at the time. There’s no reason to think that the next upsurge will be any different.

The tunnel vision that characterizes Compa’s essay leads him to make a number of questionable arguments and propositions concerning the future of the labor movement.

He argues that labor should “continue the hard political struggle to elect governors and legislatures who will reverse state right-to-work laws.” This is just as much a “law professor’s pipe dream” as any of the proposals he criticizes. It’s surprising that, after decades of disappointment, the delusion that electing more Democrats to office will result in meaningful labor law reform persists.

A state-level right-to-work law has been repealed exactly once in U.S. history — in Indiana in 1965 — and that victory was reversed in 2012. The electoral arena is clearly important, and labor should participate in it, but if history is any guide labor law reforms will come after, not before, a socially disruptive wave of organizing driven primarily by bottom-up worker self-activity. Encouraging that activity is a far more constructive use of our energy and resources than yet more electioneering for Democrats.

Moreover, Compa rightly decries the “insurance policy” model of unionism, but he fails to mention how susceptible conventional forms of unionism are to its logic. In the conventional model workers often become passive clients rather than active participants in the building of collective power in the workplace. So while the emergence of an unresponsive bureaucracy with its own set of interests apart from the membership is not inevitable, current institutional arrangements make it extremely likely. This process of bureaucratization— which is far advanced in many unions — and the negative impact it has on working-class power must be seriously addressed. Instead, Compa chooses to dismiss it as the misplaced concern of supposed “romantics.”

Significant changes in the legal-institutional structures governing the labor movement in this country seem to be headed our way whether we like it or not. Rather than a long-term “ebb and flow” suggested by Compa, private sector unionization is rapidly fading into irrelevance, and there is a serious possibility that the Supreme Court will soon impose a national right-to-work regime in the public sector in the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case.
Finally, pace Compa, few labor activists see strategies like members-only unions as ideal strategies — they are adaptive measures designed to address overriding questions of how to rebuild the organizing capacities of workers when conventional unionization isn’t possible and alternative strategies are necessary. The climate confronting labor activists today is incredibly harsh, and with the Supreme Court decision looming on the horizon, many of these debates may be rendered moot. One fact remains — the labor movement will only be revitalized by developing real worker power from the bottom up, within both existing unions and the organizational forms that may eventually supplant them.

Response by Michael M. Oswalt

Lance Compa is right: alt-labor relies heavily on union support, and it’s not self-sustaining. But the conclusion he draws—that it’s a lot of flash and no fix—is only half-right. The truth is, we should feel optimistic about “traditional” labor because of alt-labor, not in spite of it. The two futures are linked, and supporting alt-labor may be the smartest way for unions to put fuel to the flashes and get to the fixes.

Consider, to start, some alt-labor victories so far. Defying all early punditry, Fight for $15 has spread a fifteen-dollar-an-hour fever that’s touched five cities, a slew of companies, and shows no sign of stopping.i In 2010 the National Domestic Workers Alliance won precedent-setting rights legislation in New York that’s hit 4 states and counting.ii ROCUnited’s lawsuit settlements function as essentially mini-contracts.iii OURWalmart protested its way to raises and meaningful maternity and scheduling changes.iv

There’s more, but here’s the real key: that these and other alt-labor projects rest on union backing isn’t a bug—it’s a feature. It’s proof that unions are willing to take the best part about institutionalization—resource stability—and put some of it on the line for unconventional causes using a diversity of tactics, from the tried-and-true, like lobbying and community-building; to the edgy, like civil disobedience; to the totally new, like running into stores to see who’s up for striking. This is busting-out without breaking-up, and it’s working.

Of course, to keep going, people need to get and stay mobilized, including many at the margins of labor’s usual field of vision. That’s where social media is crucial, and it’s a much more vibrant tool than Compa suggests. OURWalmart’s virtual “strike kit” sparked Black Friday walkouts at locations untouched by organizers; a “Let Us Have Beards” campaign at Publix hit and three other sites in nine days;v when fast-food or Uber activism Twitter-trends, the left is following, but so are millenials and the media. Not only does all of this magnify labor’s reach beyond its numbers, it makes workplace activism look incredibly cool. It’s compelling, consciousness-raising stuff, and it forms a foundation for the later work of institution-building.

And that gets to the kicker: as exciting as alt-labor’s progress has been, there’s still time to double-back on sustainability. In fact, it’s happening now. Cabbies, day-laborers, care assistants and other NLRA-orphans are affiliating with unions and encouraging voluntary dues structures or getting contracts under state A recent Board decision on the test for joint-employers may make unionizing fast-food franchises feasible.vii When supermarket workers see what an on-line petition can do, they’ll wonder what could get done across a table.

In short, when headlines like “Fast-food workers walkout in N.Y. amid rising U.S. labor unrest”viii appear, it’s time to accelerate, not pull back. Workers do want “somebody to back me up” at work, but if we’ve already learned anything, it’s that a whole lot of “somebody’s” are ready—they just need an invite. If alt-labor and “traditional” labor are both invested in all the varied RSVPs, that’s a great thing.

For Lance Compa’s counter-response click here.

A Legislative Agenda for the First 100 Days

Preface/The Setting

Two days after the November 2008 elections, Democrats and their allies are still celebrating the decisive defeat of Republican John McCain.  With his defeat comes the chance to render unto history the remnants of the Bush/Cheney regime that so ruined the lives of the bottom 80 percent of the U.S. population, and turned most of the world against the U.S.  Eight years of Bush/Cheney have brought incompetence, jingoism, and neoliberalism.  The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, and the deepening economic crisis have served to discredit much of the conservative agenda, even going so far as to generate despair among the right-wing evangelical base.

Let’s imagine that, after several months of drafting, the final touches are being placed on what has come to be known as The First 100 Days: A Working People’s Agenda for the First 100 Days of the Incoming Democratic Administration.  This project, initiated by members of the AFL-CIO, Change To Win, as well as several independent unions and other progressive working-class organizations, has identified several key areas where the new Democratic administration must take bold steps within its first 100 days.  Let’s also imagine that the drafting committee collected hundreds of ideas and developed an extensive list of recommendations for an even more comprehensive agenda; but the committee’s delicate task was to focus first and foremost on the emergency steps required to rescue the country from the potentially deep, and already devastating recession, and two disastrous wars.

Within a week, the document will be presented to the President-elect and his transition team.  The atmosphere in this final meeting is one of both excitement and anxiety as everyone realizes that just as this document is being drafted, several other documents are being drafted by various forces representing constituencies whose interests are antithetical to those of working people.  The responsiveness of the President-elect to The First 100 Days will depend not only on the logic and persuasiveness of the document itself, but also on the capacity of the constituencies uniting behind this document to back up each word with people power.

The Crisis

The U.S. has plunged into a significant economic crisis which, at a minimum, is heading toward a conceivably severe recession.  Yet the crisis is not simply about the immediate economic situation.  A series of factors have contributed to an economic unraveling that is fueled by political uncertainty:

  • The living standard has declined for the average U.S. worker since the mid-1970s. While productivity has increased, workers’ pay has decreased. Structural unemployment has worsenend as sectors of the economy have begun to reorganize, move, or disappear altogether.  In addition, the adoption of neoliberalism as the given economic framework in the capitalist world generally and the U.S. in particular, has meant an assault on the public sector and public service, a factor that became tragically apparent when Hurricane Katrina hit.  Meanwhile, the domino effects of a credit crisis (that began as part of the speculative boom in housing prices and values), continue to destroy the lives and savings of millions of working people.
  • Neoliberal globalization, in both its military and non-military forms, has brought unprecedented levels of migration. In the U.S., as part of this global migration, we have seen a steady increase in immigration from the 1970s (particularly from Indochina), through the 1980s (largely as a result of the Central American wars), into the 1990s and today (stemming from the collapse of the Soviet bloc, along with the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the migration of Mexicans into the U.S.).
  • Efforts at some form of national health care have been undermined since World War II, largely by the political Right. Renewed attention to the more than 44,000,000 people lacking any health insurance, along with the legions of people who have inadequate healthcare coverage, surfaced in the early 2000s.
  • An environmental crisis has enveloped planet Earth sooner than many people, including many scientists, expected.
  • Workers remain under attack, and not just as a result of a problematic economy. The ability of workers to join or form unions has worsened with each year.
  • The global community is becoming more unequal. In terms of income and wealth, inequality has consistently grown under the neoliberal order. In the U.S., the top one percent controls more than 35 percent of the wealth.  At the global level, the richest 225 individuals have more wealth than the bottom 47 percent of the world’s population.  This dramatic wealth disparity, not seen in the U.S. since the 1920s, is a major source of social instability and resentment, undermining the entire notion of democracy.
  • Inequality in the U.S. also has a racial and gendered face to it, due to a regression from the victories of the civil rights and women’s movements, along with the growing tendency to blame the setbacks of white men on those who have been subjected to historic discrimination.
  • War (in Iraq and Afghanistan) and the national security/neoliberal authoritarian state have changed the terms of domestic and international politics. In addition to destroying the countries involved, these wars are a tremendous drain on the U.S. budget (with a cost of approximately $845 billion by the end of 2008).[1] Insecurity in the U.S. has also increased in response to the rising global resentment toward.U.S. policies abroad.  The growth of the neoliberal authoritarian state has brought a decrease in actual democracy and civil liberties.

While the situation facing the U.S. and the rest of the world could be described in greater detail, the preceding depicts the key elements of the current emergency. The Bush administration and its allies (as well as the McCain campaign) have lived in denial, perpetuated lies (such as those in connection with the illegal U.S. invasion of Iraq, as well as the hostility toward Iran), and promoted the interests of the rich.

The time has now come to fight for the bottom 80 percent.

The Federal Emergency Response

The new administration’s first initiatives must be both domestic and global in scope.  There is little time to engage in the politics of symbolism, playing to a particular constituency, rallying troops to the ‘flag,’ without speaking to the deep-seated nature of the challenges that we face.

At the same time, it must be understood that the efforts within the first 100 days cannot represent the totality of the new administration’s program.  A mandate to bring about more sweeping change must be organized and mobilized over the coming months and years.  This will require a combination of movement-building and building a broader social consensus in favor of significant structural change.

With that in mind, let us itemize the agenda:

  1. Immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops, bases, and mercenaries from Iraq and Afghanistan.

This should involve the following:

  • Asking the United Nations (UN) and Arab League for assistance in creating a multi-national, transitional team to bring the various forces on the ground together, along with regional powers, to negotiate a long-term resolution of the conflict and the stabilization of Iraq.
  • The elimination of any obligation on the part of the Iraqi government to fulfill agreements imposed upon Iraq during the reign of Paul Bremer.
  • Bilateral discussions with Iran regarding future policies and relations with the U.S.
  • Multi-party discussions between the U.S., Pakistan, and the various political forces in Afghanistan regarding a permanent political settlement.
  • Reparations from the U.S. (and any other country or group that interfered in the internal affairs of Iraq and Afghanistan) placed into a reconstruction fund established by the UN.
  • A renouncement of any U.S. intentions to have permanent bases in Iraq or Afghanistan; a withdrawal of U.S. bases from Saudi Arabia; a renouncement of U.S. intentions to secure control over oil and/or natural gas reserves in the region.
  • Immediate talks toward establishing a U.S./European Union/Russian/Arab League/Israeli/Palestinian joint committee on the resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Deployment of a special envoy to lay the foundations for this project.
  1. Economic Triage.

The ongoing economic meltdown, particularly the collapse of the housing bubble and the lending/credit/foreclosure calamity, calls for both immediate relief and long-term management. This will require the sort of economic aid that has been diverted to cover the Iraq/Afghan war costs, and attention must ultimately be paid to reversing the more than thirty years of attacks on working people and their declining living standards.  In the short-term, however, several steps need to be taken, including, but not limited to:

  • A moratorium on foreclosures and evictions. Immediate steps must be taken to halt foreclosures and evictions, while providing immediate assistance to those affected by these actions to renegotiate the terms of their debt. This may mean federal assistance to pull individuals out of usurious loans, allowing them to more comfortably rebuild their financial standing; this would be a step just short of declaring personal bankruptcy.  The Republicans’ efforts to restrict individuals’ ability to declare personal bankruptcy must be reversed.  The new administration must also re-establish the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC).  This would be a 21st century version of the New Deal measure that statutorily arranged a temporary corporation to stabilize uncertain mortgage markets.[2]  Upon any reinstitution of it today, the HOLC would acquire defaulted loans from mortgage lenders and offer sustainable refinancing options for homeowners to prevent future foreclosures.[3]
  • An extension of both unemployment and food stamp benefits. The Bush administration has adamantly held the line against such expansion. But greater numbers of the working poor have come to depend on food stamps in order to survive, and the current apportionment insufficiently reflects today’s cost of living. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that the current food stamp benefit averages about $1 per meal per individual.[4] Benefit amounts are based on the USDA’s “Thrifty Food Plan”— a theoretical diet created in the 1930s to provide a minimally adequate diet at a low cost —which hasn’t been updated since 2003.[5]  Additionally, according to the Bread for the World group, most food stamp households spend 80 percent of their benefits by the 14th of each month.[6]  Thus, the food stamp system must be retooled to meet the full nutritional needs of its recepients.
  • Immediate public service job creation. The federal government needs to infuse the economy with funds to prevent further collapse. As part of a longer-term initiative, the federal government must begin emergency public sector reconstruction work, focusing on bridges, tunnels, and levees. We need a program along the lines of that proposed by Barack Obama, who suggested the dedication of  $210 billion to create construction and environmental jobs:  $60 billion would be directed to a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank to rebuild public projects such as highways, bridges, airports; and $150 billion would be earmarked for the creation of five million green-collar jobs to develop more environmentally friendly energy sources.[7]  This would be funded through cuts in military spending.[8]
  • Federal intervention to halt the collapse of student loan programs. A hidden crisis, that is part of the larger credit crunch, has been the declining number of banks that offer affordable student loans. This has resulted in a higher demand for available loans and the elimination of higher education opportunities for many students. A federal intervention, therefore, is needed to make sufficient funds available.  This could take the form of legislation proposed by Senator Kennedy in April 2008  to increase federal student aid. This proposal would, among other things, reduce students’ need to take out costly private loans by increasing their access to guaranteed low-interest federal loans.[9] The bill would increase federal loan limits by $1000 a year for dependent undergraduates, and by $2000 a year for independent undergraduates and students whose parents’ credit score disqualifies them for federal parent loans.[10]  The new administration should also take steps aimed to restrain predatory lending.
  • Elimination of Bush tax cuts. Bush’s tax cuts, along with the Iraq and Afghan wars, have been bleeding the economy. Steps must be taken to reclaim the money that has been disproportionately funneled to corporations and the wealthy. Though longer-term tax reform will be necessary, the first step is to stop the hemorrhaging.
  • Federal aid to the states. Despite growing constraints on state budgets (particularly within the context of the rising unemployment and foreclosure rates), the federal government has increasingly meted out severe budget cuts. Federal assistance should provide the states with more of a safety net as they struggle to balance their budgets.
  1. A Marshall Plan for U.S. cities and depressed regions.

The Hurricane Katrina disaster and the 2007 Minneapolis bridge collapse exposed significant problems with our political leadership, economic choices, and the basic U.S. infrastructure (not to mention race, gender, and class politics when it came to Katrina). Another assortment of projects must be undertaken to make the infrastructure address our environmental crisis.  With all of this in mind, the following initiatives should be announced:

  • A national commitment to launch a domestic version of the Marshall Plan. This program would involve a renewal of the U.S. physical and social infrastructures. With regard to the physical infrastructure, in 2005, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated that rehabilitation should cost $1.6 trillion over five years.  The National Urban League, which has been a strong proponent of a social Marshall Plan, has identified ten areas that are integral to revamping the socio-economic infrastructure.[11]  We must combine the elements of these two proposals in order to lift the U.S. from the abyss.  A successful modern-day Marshall Plan would also build upon the work of groups such as the National Jobs for All Coalition, which has proposed a 21st-Century Public Investment Act, featuring: a Public Works Authority that, while working with state and local authorities to create permanent jobs, would provide long-term funding for high priority public works and infrastructure projects, ensuring that these projects employ the unemployed and underemployed; a Public Investment Fund that would fund a Public Service Employment Program designed to close job gaps, while continuing to encourage job creation; and a National Employment Accounting Office that would evaluate progress and assess ongoing needs for job creation and public investment.[12]
  • The immediate establishment of a regional public agency to oversee the reconstruction of the post-Katrina Gulf Coast and the repatriation of its native population.
  • The establishment of a 21st century version of the Works Progress Administration to oversee the infrastructure-related work. Priority in employment would go to the chronically and structurally unemployed. Wages would be paid according to the Davis-Bacon Act.[13]  Building trades contractors and unions would agree to 50 percent residential set-asides for entry into apprenticeship programs and journeyman work in connection with any of these efforts. At least 25 percent of such jobs should be staffed by people of color, with at least another 25 percent staffed by women.
  • Regional planning authorities should be established in depressed regions bringing together the business community, worker organizations including, but not limited to, unions, academia, and governmental representatives. Such authorities would explore economic development strategies such as industrial cooperatives, public/private partnerships, and governmental incentives to encourage the creation of new industries or the introduction of industries which had been discouraged from emerging.
  • Emergency measures to provide more low-income housing. This would include an Executive commitment to push through: the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund Act,[14] which would establish a federal housing trust fund to ensure housing for the lowest income earners who have the most serious housing problems; and the Housing Assistance Tax Act which would, among other provisions, provide tax credits to first-time homebuyers, while improving access to low-income housing, allowing families to deduct property taxes.[15]
  1. Immediate signing of the Kyoto Protocol.

The U.S. is way behind the rest of the world on the environment, and the Bush administration has flouted the gravity of the matter.  Our over-dependence on fossil fuels has straightjacketed the global economy (making the greater international community highly dependent on oil), which has contributed to the rising global temperature.  The environmental crisis, however, is not limited to global warming. The epidemic of bee colony die-offs and the endangerment of various species paints a disturbing picture of an unraveling ecology.  Most urgently, the new administration must:

  • Sign the Kyoto Protocol, while making a commitment to launch international negotiations toward a new and stronger pact.
  • Push through the Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act[16] to promote renewable energy, green-collar jobs, and tax benefits to middle-class families.
  • Establish a “Green Commission” that brings together labor, business, environmental groups, community-based organizations, and government representatives to recommend technological, economic, and developmental changes geared toward building a sustainable economy.
  1. Pass and sign the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).

As a step toward jettisoning the one-sided class war against workers, the new administration must:

  • Reaffirm the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)’s mandate that it is within U.S. public policy to promote collective bargaining.
  • Sign the EFCA.
  • Draft legislation that proscribes any employer involvement in their workers’ choice of bargaining representatives.
  1. A universal health care initiative.

Universal, single-payer health care cannot take flight within the first 100 days.  The groundwork, however, must be laid immediately.  The new administration must:

  • Expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), as proposed by the Democratic Congressional leadership in 2007.[17]
  • Establish a commission to draft legislation for universal, single-payer coverage. Plan for a one year drafting period, followed by national town meetings and hearings. Aim for passage before the midterm elections.
  1. Immigration reform.

Immediate steps must be taken to lay out an immigration reform program that is coupled with changes in U.S. foreign policy (therefore, points # 7 and # 8 are integrally linked).  This program must include:

  • Amnesty (in the form of permanent residency status) for undocumented workers who have no criminal record.
  • Priority given to family reunification interests.
  • A revised application process that gives priority to refugees from areas of political conflict where the U.S. has been historically involved.
  • Elimination of guest worker programs. Investigation of already existing guest worker programs’ impact on both domestic and foreign born workers.
  • Unionization rights for all workers within U.S. borders, irrespective of their immigration status.
  1. Forge global partnerships.

Changing U.S. foreign policy is an uphill, long-term process.  Nevertheless, certain immediate measures are imperative.  In addition to withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan, the new administration must:

  • Create a 21st Century Partnership Program to develop foreign aid and trade programs designed to promote more self-reliance among nation-states, while responding to the civilian needs in those areas.
  • Develop targeted programs of repair in areas where U.S. involvement has distorted regional development (e.g., Southeast Asia, Angola, and Central America).
  • Promote trade relations that are based on fairness rather than on corporate interests. Explore a renegotiation of NAFTA.
  • Implement the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty with steps toward de-nuclearization.
  • Employ special envoys for peace and development who will work with regional representatives to address matters such as political conflict, economic underdevelopment, and environmental devastation.

Conclusion/A Qualifying Thought

This agenda will be moot without a strong backing from social forces that are prepared to press for its implementation.  Any demobilization of those who successfully brought the Democratic candidate to victory will buoy the political Right’s leverage to assert its own agenda. Right-wing forces will push for a continuation of the Bush administration’s anti-progressive policies.  Thus, if we are not prepared to consistently place enough pressure on our “friend” in the White House, we should expect a repeat of the Bill Clinton years—an era in which there was (technically) a high degree of access to the President and top cabinet officials, but the progressive social movements were afforded very little actual power.

The choice is ours, and we have precious little time to decide how we want to proceed.


[1]  See “Iraq war will cost $12 billion a month,” Associated Press, March 9, 2008, (citing Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes, The Three Trillion Dollar War:The True Cost of the Iraq War,W.W. Norton, 2008).

[2] See, accessed July 7, 2008.

[3] See id.

[4] See, accessed July 7, 2008.

[5] See id.

[6] See id.

[7] See “Obama vows $210 billion for ‘green,’ building jobs,” The Los Angeles Times, February 14, 2008,, accessed July 7, 2008.

[8] See “Obama’s Pocketbook Speech,” Jason Horowitz, The New York Observer, May 3, 2008,, accessed July 7, 2008.

[9] See, accessed July 7, 2008.

[10] See id.

[11] Their proposal, as of July 2007, included areas such as mandatory early childhood education beginning at age 3, universal healthcare, building economic self-sufficiency for working people, and an urban infrastructure bank. See, accessed July 7, 2008.

[12] See the National Jobs for All Coalition’s Shared Prosperity and the Drive for Decent Work report,

[13] Under the Davis-Bacon Act, federal government construction contracts are required to include provisions for paying workers nothing less than the prevailing wages paid for similar projects in the geographical area.

[14] This bill passed in the Senate in May 2008, after an overwhelming passage in the House. See, accessed July 7, 2008.

[15] In April 2008, Congressman Charles Rangel introduced this bill in the House. See, accessed July 7, 2008.

[16] See, accessed July 7, 2008.

[17] See