On The Contrary

On the Contrary: A Debate on Sectoral Bargaining

The pros and cons of sectoral bargaining are the subject of our “On the Contrary” section in the latest issue of New Labor Forum.  Larry Cohen, former president of the Communications Workers of America, makes the case for sectoral (industry-wide) bargaining, the rule in most developed countries outside the U.S.… Read more

Veena Dubal Replies to Larry Cohen

Trade union density (alongside economic equality and working conditions) has fallen across all Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations in the last two decades.[1] Though private employer union density in the United States has increased slightly in the last year, the numbers remain dismal—as they have for four… Read more

Larry Cohen Replies to Veena Dubal

I agree with Veena that the organizing surge in the United States has been an inspiration, whether we are considering collective action or new workplace organizing. But the fact remains that this organizing has not moved the needle on collective bargaining coverage in our nation. The PRO Act faces bigger… Read more

Sectoral Bargaining Reforms: Proceed with Caution

After decades of decline, strike activity grew dramatically in 2018 and 2019.[1] Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that these two years marked a thirty-five-year high for the number of workers involved in work stoppages.[2] A closer examination at rising wage inequality and nearly stagnant hourly wage growth… Read more

U.S. Bargaining and Organizing Rights Trail Every Other Democracy

Collective bargaining contracts in the private sector, the engine of our economy, currently protect a mere 7 percent of U.S. workers. Five decades ago, when nearly 35 percent of private sector workers belonged to a union, their collective bargaining increased the standard of living of all workers, whether or not… Read more

Gary Was and Todd Allen Reply to Todd Larsen

By Gary S. Was and Todd R. Allen The goal for protecting the climate is simple. Stop putting carbon into the atmosphere and remove the carbon already added. If the “climate crisis is the greatest challenge facing the world today” as Todd Larsen argues, why would we not use all… Read more

The Importance of Nuclear Power in Our Energy Mix

By Gary S. Was and Todd R. Allen Access to power improves lives. People want their power to be increasingly less polluting, less expensive, and more reliable and resilient. Since the mid-nineteenth century, the world’s energy mix has become cleaner overall, and in particular, decarbonized.[1] Future energy production will continue… Read more

Nuclear Energy Is Not a Climate Solution: Response to Gary S. Was and Todd R. Allen

By Todd Larsen The climate crisis is the greatest challenge facing the world today. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned us that to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, we need to reduce emissions by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero… Read more

All Unhappy Social Democratic Parties Are Alike: They’ve Lost the White Working Class

By Harold Meyerson In the recent U.K. elections that gave Boris Johnson’s Tories a resounding victory, Britain’s Labour Party was decimated in what had long been its working-class home. The new brand of nativist Tories ousted one Labour member of parliament (MP) after another in England’s north, once the United… Read more

The AFL-CIO “On the Beach”

In the chilling 1959 cold war apocalyptic film, On the Beach, the entire northern hemisphere has succumbed to radiation sickness after a nuclear war. A few pockets of humanity remain in the southern hemisphere but, the characters in the film discover, their demise is inevitable as wind currents slowly move… Read more

How Census Data Mislead Us about Ethno-Racial Change in the United States: A Response to Mora and Rodríguez-Muñiz

I am pleased to open a conversation with G. Cristina Mora and Michael Rodríguez-Muñiz about census data and what they indicate about ethno-racial change in this issue of New Labor Forum. To forestall misunderstandings, I think it advisable at the outset to make clear the framework within which I am… Read more

A Response to Richard Alba’s “The Likely Persistence of a White Majority”

That politics undergirds censuses is a truism. At least since Benedict Anderson wrote Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism in 1983[i] scholars have accepted that censuses are both political and scientific enterprises. Census racial classifications are a case in point because they have historically become instituted through… Read more

We Believe that We Can Win!

“On the Contrary”   Did the Sanders Campaign Represent a Missed Opportunity for the U.S. Labor Movement?: A Debate   As our readers know, the labor movement was divided during the Democratic Party primary season over whether to support Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination.  We… Read more

Why Hillary Clinton Deserved Labor’s Support

“On the Contrary”   Did the Sanders Campaign Represent a Missed Opportunity for the U.S. Labor Movement?: A Debate   As our readers know, the labor movement was divided during the Democratic Party primary season over whether to support Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination.  We… Read more

Labor Wars: Shaun Richman Responds

Article 5 of 5 Link to previous article in series – http://newlaborforum.cuny.edu/2016/10/04/labor-wars-put-workers-back-at-the-center-of-organizing/ The respondents have expanded the discussion far beyond the parameters of my initial article. I have written elsewhere about union structure[1], strategy,[2] and legal reform[3], but my preceding article does not purport to offer an all-encompassing solution to labor’s… Read more

Labor Wars: Time to Set New Priorities?

Article 3 of 5 Link to previous article in series – http://newlaborforum.cuny.edu/2016/10/04/labor-wars-labor-needs-a-bold-vision-to-inspire-workers-in-the-new-economy/ I strongly disagree with Brother Richman’s assertion that the inadequate resources devoted to external organizing is the result of a conscious choice −strategic or tactical − made by labor leaders because they have opted instead to dedicate all or… Read more

Labor Wars: Put Workers Back at the Center of Organizing

Article 4 of 5 Link to previous article in the series – http://newlaborforum.cuny.edu/2016/10/04/labor-wars-time-to-set-new-priorities/ Late one night in the fall of 2015, a nurse named Michael Winn was facing the same situation he had faced too many times: patients in his hospital’s unit were at risk because of dangerously short staffing. Frustrated… Read more

Labor Wars: New Organizing in a New Economy

Article 2 of 5 Link to previous article in series – http://newlaborforum.cuny.edu/2016/10/01/on-the-contrary-labor-wars/ A little more than thirty years ago, I first heard the debate: Should we prioritize organizing more workers into unions or focus on representing and raising standards for current members? And who should be in charge—local unions or their… Read more

Labor Wars: Two Reasons Why Most Unions Don’t Do Large-Scale Organizing

In this article, views of Shaun Richman are expressed followed by a response from Jonathan Rosenblum Two Reasons Why Most Unions Don’t Do Large-Scale Organizing By Shaun Richman In 2005, the labor movement… Read more


In this article, views of Jay Youngdahl are expressed followed by a response from Ai-jenPoo and Palak Shah Greed-Washing the On-Demand Economy: The NDWA’s “Good Work Code” By Jay Youngdahl Readers of New Labor Forum are familiar with the depleted state of America’s unions, workers’ depressed living standards, as well as… Read more

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… Read more

Careful What You Wish For: A Critical Appraisal of Proposals to Rebuild the Labor Movement

Alarmed at declining union density and frustrated with the National Labor Relations Act, many worker advocates want to ditch the NLRA, forsake traditional unions, and start the labor movement afresh. But they should not let novelty overwhelm judgment. Many of these new ideas are clever in theory, but in practice… Read more

For Rooted Unions: Lance Compa’s Reply to New Labor Forum Debate Respondents

See original article here. See responses here. Thanks to all the contributors for their incisive and challenging responses to “Careful What You Wish For.” Interesting that each zeroed in on Alt-labor, touching just briefly on union organizing as a civil right, minority union bargaining, digital organizing, grievance fees for non-members… Read more

Green Capitalism Won’t Work

For the last 20 years, unions in the U.S. and internationally have generally accepted the dominant discourse on climate policy, one that is grounded in assumptions that private markets will lead the “green transition,” reduce emissions, and stabilize the climate over the longer term. Indeed, unions began attending the climate negotiations convened by the UN in the early 1990s, a time when the “triumph of the market” went unchallenged and the climate debate was awash with neoliberal ideas. Unions therefore focused on articulating the need for “Just Transition” policies. Read more

Class-Based Affirmative Action

In the press, debates over affirmative action in higher education pit liberals (who support taking race into account in admissions) and conservatives (who oppose it). But there is a third way on the issue—affirmative action based on class, rather than race—which is far more progressive than our current system of racial preferences, the class-based approach is quickly gaining ground. Read more

Should Labor Boycott Israel?

The BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) campaign is shaping up as one of these historical moments when everyone has to choose which side they are on. Trade unionists have good reason to know what this feels like. Labor history is punctuated with similar contests, when nuanced views on strategy have run their course and we are left with a stark moral choice. Read more

The Problems with Work

Despite my use of the singular in the title, The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries (2011) explores several problems with work. My focus is not so much on the difficulties of this or that job but on the failures of the system of waged work together with the values and ways of life that support and are produced by it. Some of these problems fit under three general headings: underwork, overwork, and non-work. Read more

Impossible Unity: Adjuncts and Tenure-Track Faculty

n 2005, an estimated 42.6 million Americans (about 31 percent of the U.S. workforce) toiled as contingent workers outside full-time, regular year-round employment. And the problem is getting worse. By 2020, more than 40 percent may work under insecure conditions: underpaid and without job protection as well as lacking many benefits such as health insurance, pensions, and vacations with pay. Unionizing this large segment of the workforce has proved difficult. Only about 6 percent of part-time employees are union members, compared to 12.5 percent for full-timers. Read more

Solidarity: An Argument for Faculty Unity

As in many industries and professions, stable and coveted careers in higher education have transformed into contingent, low-paid jobs. As tenured full professors retired, they were replaced with adjuncts, part-time instructors, full-time non-tenure-system faculty, and other “contract” faculty. The shift was rapid and dramatic: from 1975 to 2010 part-time faculty increased by 300 percent, and the full-time tenure-track professoriate lost more than half its members. Read more

The Politics of Debt Resistance & Getting the Left out of Debt

Like others who committed themselves to the fledgling debtors’ movement, I have experienced the major occupational hazard of single-issue activists—we tend to see our issue everywhere. Oftentimes, it’s the only thing we see, and our more ecumenical allies have to find ways to remind us, either gently or more rudely, that issues and struggles are always connected. That said, debt really is everywhere right now. Read more

Getting the Left out of Debt

The problem with attempting to build a politics of debt resistance is that our crisis of personal indebtedness isn’t really about debt. It’s about neoliberalism, the inequality it reproduces, and the borrowing it necessitates. This isn’t to say that debt itself is irrelevant. A generation of college students and subprime mortgage holders can testify otherwise. It is, however, intended to suggest that mitigating the anxiety and material hardship that debt is inflicting on increasing numbers of us will require focusing less on the fact that we owe loads of money and more on why we owe it. Read more

The Precariat: A Class or a Condition?

The claim that work has become more precarious in recent decades has an intuitive appeal, at least among a layer of young people and activists. The concept of the “precariat,” playing on the old description of the working class as a “proletariat,” attempts to give empirical and sociological content to this intuition. The term has been widely disseminated by U.K. sociologist Guy Standing, whose book The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class summarizes a long career of investigation into the changing nature of waged work. Read more

“We Are the 99%”: The Political Arithmetic of Revolt

The worldwide Occupy movement that erupted in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park in September 2011 took as its watchwords, “We are the 99 %.” These words resonated with large masses of people as few others have in a long while. To understand why, it’s important to look at the context that generated it. Read more

On the Contrary

Four and a half years after the crash, the American economy sputters along. Twenty-three million workers cannot find full-time work, and the percentage of the employed population has hardly budged since it hit bottom two and a half years ago. Republicans argue that we should reduce the deficit (a disastrous policy); Democrats urge a new stimulus (a necessary step, but not sufficient to repair our economy). Missing from our national discussions about economic revitalization—even in arguments made by many of the nation’s progressive economists—is the need to restore a badly damaged manufacturing sector. Read more

Class Unconsciousness: Stop Using “Middle Class” to Depict the Labor Movement

George Orwell thought the precise and purposeful deployment of our language was the key to the kind of politics we hoped to advance. By that standard, virtually everyone—from the center to the left, from Barack Obama to Richard Trumka to the activists of Occupy Wall Street—has made a hash of the way we name the most crucial features of our society.
Exhibit A is the suffocating pervasiveness with which we use the phrase “middle class” as the label we have come to attach to not just all of those who are hurting in the current economic slump, but to the entire stratum that used to be identified as working class.
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On the Contrary

Earth to Labor: Economic Growth Is No Salvation The notion that economic growth is, almost by definition, a good thing has been subjected to serious and well-informed criticism in recent years. Diverse organizationally, geographically, and ideologically, those challenging growth are united by one realization: the world’s ecosystems are in a… Read more

ON THE CONTRARY: A New Insurgency Can Only Arise Outside the Progressive and Labor Establishment

We live in a dangerous time when large corporations and the super-rich are restructuring the nation’s economy. There is a crisis for most Americans, but not for the elites who dominate the political economy of the country. Unfortunately, organized labor can be as much of an obstacle as it is… Read more

It’s an Academic Question: Why Progressive Intellectuals Should Not Stay Out of Internal Union Battles

As an academic beginning to engage with the labor movement, if there was one point on which everyone was clear, it was this: you absolutely, positively cannot get involved in the internal politics of the labor movement.

I disagree. If we are to study and work with labor at all, we almost inevitably are involved in its internal politics. Even if it were possible to avoid doing so, I don’t think it would be desirable. Read more

We Can’t Go Home Again: Why the New Deal Won’t Be Renewed

Spilled across the title pages of progressive journals are demands for a new New Deal, a global New Deal, a New and Improved Deal, a reNewed Deal, and even New Deal 2.0. After Obama’s election, political cartoons—most notably, but not exclusively, on the cover of Time magazine—featured a jubilant, toothy Barack Obama with a cigarette holder, posing confidently in an open limousine à la FDR. Elsewhere, otherwise sober commentators began speaking of “Franklin Delano Obama.” Read more

Are The Democrats The Right Choice?

The question whether an Obama-era Democratic party may offer opportunities for labor and left-of-center political interests presumes that Obama’s Democratic Party offers potential for significant departure from the rightward tacking we’ve seen since Bill Clinton’s presidency. There is little in anything Obama’s said or done to warrant such a presumption. Read more

Taking Over The Enterprise: A New Strategy for Labor and the Left

Rick Wolff’s Opinion
We are overdue for a new strategy. Labor and the Left are at low points in long declines. One cause has been adherence to a failed strategy. We need to acknowledge that reality and answer two linked questions. First, what part of getting into this situation was our own doing? Second, what changes in labor’s and the Left’s strategy could revive the two groups and rebuild their coalition into a powerful political force? To answer the first question: labor’s and the Left’s strategic attitude toward capitalism undermined both partners and their coalition. To answer the second: changing their attitude toward capitalism could, I believe, revive them significantly in the near future.
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