Sunday, January 18, 2004

The State of the Labor Debate

Speaking of labor and immigration, as Tom Palmer has mentioned in a lecture this summer, it is a rather interesting phenomenon that U.S. unions have embraced a pro-immigration stance in recent years. In fact, they've taken to aggressively promote it along with a host of other lefty issues like foreign policy multilateralism (excluding free trade), and even "smart growth."

In a recent article, The Nation detailed the contribution of publicly funded "labor studies programs" (like CUNY's) to the changing strategy and rhetoric.
The [Institute for Labor and Employment's] creation came on the heels of a change in direction in the old programs. In the mid-1990s a new set of academics and staff took charge in Berkeley and Los Angeles, with a much more dynamic vision of the ILE's relationship with workers and unions. The Labor Center in Los Angeles became an institution in which students, academics and union organizers studied the increasing role of immigrants in the Los Angeles work force. The Center for Labor Research and Education in Berkeley gave a home to labor activists who formed the Labor Immigrant Organizing Network, and then wrote the resolution that changed the position of the AFL-CIO itself on immigration.

As labor faces a continued erosion of power in its traditional constituencies, it is shifting its focus
on the inclusion and expansion of opportunities for ethnic and gender minorities both in terms of membership and leadership positions in unions, on the impact of globalization and its main strategic initiative neoliberalism on working people throughout the world, on the need for renewed and independent political action, and on counterpoising worker democracy and solidarity against what amounts to the class warfare of capitalism.

Like the anti-sweatshop, fair trade, living wage for janitors, and grad student union campaigns at universities have shown, conservatives should be well aware of the changing nature of this debate. Especially so if they want make gains with the Hispanic and the “bobo” vote.

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