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the future direction of organized labour

December 17, 2011

With organized labour once again on the ropes, it may time for labour to rethink modern-day contract unionism, which relies on bloated bureaucracies and effectively neuters unions with its no-strike clause, and go back to the more ‘radical’ roots of the American labour movement—a time when, in the words of Stanley Aronowitz, “Workers … used to fight for their demands continuously and agree to return to work only when they were met.”

One option could be, as some within the IWW have recently argued doing themselves, for unions to move in the direction of ‘direct unionism’, where the focus isn’t on contracts, workplace elections, or legal procedures, but building “networks of militants in whatever industry they are employed” who’ll then “agitate amongst their co-workers and lead direct actions over specific grievances in their own workplaces.” The goal essentially being to start small and “build up leadership and consciousness amongst other workers” that’ll eventually lead to “large scale industrial actions that address issues of wages and conditions across entire regions or even whole countries” rather than just “union recognition from a single boss” and the signing of contracts that ultimately seek to de-radicalize workers.

Whether or not it’s a direction labour wants to take, I think it’s definitely time to try something new. The current direction is going nowhere fast.


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