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Bai On Stern and Labor

I wanted to blog something about Matt Bait's article on Andy Stern and the future of unions, but I don't have much to add to what Sam and Nathan Newman have to offer. Let me say that I'm specifically distressed that Bai didn't really try to analyze the merits of Stern's proposed overhaul of the AFL-CIO. From where I sit, Stern's ideas sound right to me, but I hardly have a great deal of expertise in the subject. One would hope that readings thousands of words on the subject in a magazine feature would let me get beyond "sounds like a good idea, but I'm not so sure." Instead, I'm still right where I've always been on this.

February 1, 2005 | Permalink


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Some education reform and new liberal types seem to be salivating over Stern's comments about school vouchers. Put aside the merits (or lack thereof) of vouchers, before anyone gets too far praising Stern on school reform, it's worth noting that SEIU represents teachers aides in some cities, and hasn't been shy about fighting for their interests when they didn't coincide with those of kids. And, SEIU is tightly linked with ACORN, which much as I respect its work to organize some of the most disenfranchised people, has taken a pretty reactionary stance on some local level school reform initiatives. (See, for example, Philadelphia, where, although the plan ACORN was opposing was far from perfect, it seemed more in the interests of kids than the idefensible status quo, private forprofits or not).

Obviously, this is a tiny segment of the overall story.

Less boring wonky note:
"well, it really is impossible to imagine a serious progressive movement without organized labor at the center of it"

obviously, this is a discussion that's been going on a long time. But I don't entirely understand the argument. Sure, it's impossible to imagine a serious progressive movement without organized normal people, generally working people, at the center of it. But does that mean the basis of their organization has to be linked to their employment?

This seems problematic in a modern world for lots of reasons. For starters, isn't one of the benefits of progress and a critical part of the pursuit of happiness that people get to be and are recognized as much more than the economic function they play in society? More practically, when people change jobs and careers with increasing frequency, can you build a stable movement based on the nature of one's employment? Not to mention, isn't there a critical place in the progressive movement for non-workers: stay-at-home moms, retirees, the unemployed, students, and kids? I've always found it odd that progressives think people should get health care from the governmetn rather than their employers but their political activity should be mediated around and institution linked to their work and employment. I realize that work is the fundamental need and issue for survival for most people (it is for me, too) and has a huge impact on mental well-being to boot. But isn't there a more humane and stable basis for building a movement?

Posted by: flip | Feb 1, 2005 4:14:19 PM

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