Saturday, April 14, 2018, 8:30 am - 4:30 pm
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University of Massachusetts Boston 
100 Morrissey Blvd
UMass Boston Labor Resource Center
Dorchester, MA 02125

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Wally Soper 
Labor Resource Center 

Labor Organizing, Political Power, and the Trump Effect 

April 14, 2018

UMass Boston Labor Resource Center

Trump's election, charged rhetoric, and reactionary policies have produced an outpouring of protests and opposition. Amid the fear and anger there has been a forceful push for action and change. Much of the response has necessarily been defensive in nature, aimed at protecting the latest target of Trump's attacks. But there is also a broader dissatisfaction with the pro-business orientation of the two major political parties that reflects a deep desire for a more equitable society. This tentative backlash against gross inequality provides an opportunity for the labor movement while raising a fundamental challenge: How do we build movements that are more effective in beating back Trump's agenda, and that develop the political vehicles -- both on and off the job -- to represent, unite and build power for working people? What are the roles of worker organizations and the labor movement in this process?

Guest speakers include:
  • Kim Bobo, Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, author of Wage Theft in America: Why Millions of Americans are Not Getting Paid--And What We Can Do About It
  • Janice Fine, Rutgers University, author of Workers Centers: Organizing Communities at the Edge of the Dream
  • Sam Gindin, former research director of Canadian Auto Workers, author The Making of Global Capitalism: The Political Economy of American Empire
  • William P. Jones, University of Minnesota, author of The March on Washington: Jobs, Freedom, and the Forgotten History of Human Rights
  • Jane McAlevey, longtime organizer, and author of No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the Gilded Age
  • Adolph Reed, Jr., University of Pennsylvania, author of Class Notes: Posing as Politics and Other Thoughts on the American Scene

Conference sessions include:

Building a Labor Movement: What does a successful labor movement look like and how do we build it? What should labor's goals be--to expand workers' rights, to build union density, to build political power, something else entirely? What allies do we need to build a successful labor movement, and what should labor do to build those alliances? To what extent has Trump's election changed the formula for building a successful labor movement?

Winning the Public Debate: In a context defined by immense economic inequality, racial polarization, attacks on immigrants, and the decimation of the public sector, what debates, narratives, and issues should labor work to reframe in order to advance the interests of working people? How do we keep issues of inequality, workers' rights, and the public good on both the public radar and the progressive agenda? How can we "win" these debates, and translate such "victories" into real political power? What is the role of research, scholarship, and writing in this process?

Organizing Within Unions: In the first half of the 1980s, the U.S. labor movement was losing membership to union-busting, plant closings, outsourcing, recession, etc. To stop the bleeding, the AFL-CIO came up with the concept of "internal organizing" in 1988. The goal was to bring the "movement" into labor unions by utilizing techinques from external organizing drives to organize existing members and unions. Union activists welcomed this focus on rank-and-file participation and embraced the initiative. What lessons whave been learned (or not learned) in the past three decades about the importance, difficulties, and limitations of internal organizing and member education? What is the relatinoship between member education, creating more participatory-democratic locals, effective organizing, and building political power in and out of the workplace? What models have proven effective in this area and what impacts have they had?

Organizing Beyond Unions: It is now often assumed that any revitalization of the labor movement will be achieved by both organizing the unorganized and organizing beyond the workplace--that is, by not only organizing workers who are not unionized but by reaching into communities and organizing around issues that go beyond wages and working conditions. What models of "social movement" unionism, community-labor alliances, and social justice organizing have been effective, particularly in terms of building solidarity across divisions of race, gender, and nationality? Does the expansion of workers' centers and "alt labor" more generaly reflect innovation or the absence of a coherent approach to organizing on the part of organized labor? Or both?

Law, Legislation, Politics and the Labor Movement: The legal-political infrastructure that sustained collective bargaining has been nearly destroyed by the business class during the past half century. Labor-law violations are now commonplace and routinely go unpunished. The right to organize has been rendered increasingly meaningless as it has become difficult for workers to unionize and negotiate a contract. Striking workers can be permanently replaced. Right-to-work laws are increasingly the norm at the state level and going national. Janus vs. AFSCME looms. This legal and political landscape makes it very difficult for labor to organize and thrive; and yet this is the context in which labor finds itself and must operate. How does (or can) the labor movement fight for working people as a class in the current political and legal climate? What are the paths forward for changing a legal-political system that has become increasingly stacked against labor? How can labor effectively organize within a system that is so rigged? And are particular types of legal changes necessary in order to help advance the labor movement?

Building Political Power: What are the key obstacles and paths forward for the labor movement in terms of organizing working people and building political power? How does the labor movement work with other groups--progressives, religious groups, political parties, etc.--to advance working class power both within and otuside the workplace?