James Ginns has been involved with Occupy COMO since November.
May Day, otherwise known as International Worker’s Day, has been a traditional focal point for the labor movement internationally. It commemorates a rather ugly strike (the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago) that fought for, among other things, an eight-hour day. Over the decades to come, labor won many victories that people now take for granted: the eight-hour day, the two-day weekend, paid holidays, and the minimum wage. Even if today not all these concepts are followed, there’s a general feeling that one has been cheated or subjected to a heavy burden when they aren’t. So what happened to this movement that accomplished so much?
It’s no secret among people who follow politics that union influence has been on the decline, and anti-union legislation has left it on the defensive. However, the 2011 Wisconsin state protests over Scott Walker’s Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill and the subsequent call for a recall election show organized labor isn’t down for the count. But the events in Oakland on Nov. 2 demonstrate union organizers have dropped the ball.
After the break up of Occupy Oakland through excessive use of force by Oakland police made national news Oct. 25, Occupy Oakland declared its intention for a general strike on Nov. 2. That gave the group eight days to launch a general strike that effectively shut down the port of Oakland. It did coordinate with local unions (that urged workers to take the day off) but accomplished much of its work through grass-roots organizing, public outcry and social media. If, in 2011, it takes a group less than 2 months old eight days to organize a successful strike, organized labor is definitely not on top of its game — and that could change.
I have neither the time nor expertise to discussion labor’s rise and decline. From anti-union legislation like the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act (which established strict rules on strikes) to the challenges globalization poses for organizers, labor faces many obstacles. It may be, however, that its greatest threat is internal. Labor unions typically have some method of electing union leaders (or union bosses) who then make the negotiations that the rest of the members (the rank and file) have to abide by. Is it any wonder that union leadership has at times been thinking more about using that power to enrich itself than the wages and benefits of its employees? How well would Jimmy Hoffa’s mob connections have gone over (with) unionized truckers if the rank and file had to make this decision by consensus? Is an organization whose members use the phrase, “Jimmy Hoffa sent me” really going to make much impact? Strategies for worker’s rights need to be rethought. To this end, Occupy COMO member organizers are preparing to host May Day activities at noon in front of city hall. We need to celebrate the successes for workers rights in the past and have a discussion of where to go in the future.