It's been a mixed year for unions and for workers' struggles. On the one hand, you've got the misery in Michigan and lockouts around the country. On the other, you've got Walmart workers and fast food workers fighting their terrible wages and working conditions and the routine intimidation and oppression they face in unprecedented ways. You've got Chicago teachers striking against the odds. As much as the law is tilted toward businesses and the odds are against workers, we're seeing workers rise up and fight. We need more of that. But what are the most effective strategies? Sarah Jaffe asked six organizers and labor scholars to talk about
how labor can go on the offensive
"It's time to reinvent the strike—the strike as guerrilla warfare," according to Stephen Lerner, organizer of the SEIU's successful Justice for Janitors campaign. Similarly, Jonathan Westin, executive director of New York Communities for Change, a community organization that is organizing low-wage workers in New York City, says:
"It's about constantly pressuring employers from as many angles as possible. It's leveraging not only NLRB elections but back wage claims to pressure the employers, leveraging community pressure, boycotts, strikes. We did a strike at the car wash in the Bronx and they came to the table. That's the lesson, it's not just any one strategy, you have to come at them at every different angle."
Like Westin, labor scholar Ruth Milkman urges a focus on low-wage workers; Bill Fletcher, Jr., Jane McAlevey, and Eric Robertson and Ben Speight offer suggestions for internal union organizing, strengthening how unions relate to their existing members and from there to the community at large.
Corporations have the political power from the top, and the day to day power over workers' lives. They have the money. They have the fear factor. But increasingly we're seeing signs that workers are ready and willing to fight, and that fear won't be as much of a barrier anymore. With creative organizing and lots of struggle, could 2013 be the year the balance starts to shift back toward workers?