“Have you ever organized a majority, even a plurality, of your co-workers to confront the boss in such a way that all of your jobs were put into jeopardy?”
The results of the Wisconsin Recall election have lead many left-leaning citizens to call for a more innovative and radicalized labor movement. And while many worker-supportive parties would give their left paycheck to see more labor-friendly results, writer Corey Robin makes a sobering request in his post, “A Challenge to the Left,” when he asks those who call for more action to imagine the process of organizing a union:
My challenge is this: If you’re calling for the labor movement to be more radical—more adventurous, more willing to get out into the streets, to break laws, to challenge the social order (and let me be clear, that is an aim I share)—I want you to stop and ask yourself a question.
Have you ever organized a majority, even a plurality, of your co-workers—in an academic department, at a newspaper, in a think tank, at the little non-profit where you work—to confront the boss, whoever that might be, in such a way that all of your jobs were put into jeopardy?
If you haven’t, I ask you to imagine doing that. Not for the sake of you and your co-workers’ immediate well-being but for the sake of a larger collective good: a single-payer health care system, let’s say, or an end to adjunct labor, the elimination of capitalism, whatever.
And ask yourself whether you could do it — or if not you, whether and how you think it could be done. And not just for one day, but day after day, with no end in sight, and with no prospect for success.
What does that mean? Getting that untenured colleague in your department to stop teaching, that fellow reporter to stop reporting. Getting them out—and keeping them out.
If you think you can do it, I assure you you probably can’t.
If you think you can’t do it, I assure you that you just might—and that it will take every last thing from you to make it happen.
Everyone has a rationalization for and an opinion of what is happening (or isn’t happening) in the labor movement, but before we begin to question why progress is slow we must ask if we as individuals are standing idly by, contributing to the slowing? It is going to take many different types of people from different parts of the country to bring the labor movement back to prominence. Robin’s suggestion that local organization will get the ball rolling is right on time.