On Monday October 21st, the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor hosted a discussion with writer and activist Bill Fletcher Jr. centering on his most recent book They’re Bankrupting Us. Fletcher has extensive experience with organizing and working for various labor unions, and currently works for the American Federation of Government Employees. His wealth of knowledge has led to a deep insight about how unions work and what they need to do in order to survive the changing economic climate in America.
Fletcher was inspired to write They’re Bankrupting Us in part to debunk the myths that the vast majority of the public holds about unions. He recounted a story about a conversation he had on a plane with a woman who did not even know what the term “labor union” meant. In many ways he wrote this book specifically for that woman, and others like her, who simply do not have all the facts about unions. Aside from informing the public, Fletcher hopes his book will re-invigorate many people who support the labor movement but have forgotten why they do.
After providing a brief background on his new book, Mr. Fletcher opened up the floor to questions about the current crisis of labor unions and his view of what labor unions need to do to strengthen their presence in 21st century America. According to him, the negative persona that labor unions currently have in this country stems from a shift that occurred in the movement in the 1940’s from that of a social movement to more of a lobbying agency. He added that during this time, labor unions purged many of its leftist members who had built up the movement. These changes have created the modern labor movement, which lacks much of the broad social vision that built up the unions in the 1930s. Instead, modern labor leaders submit to the larger vision of the Democratic Party opposed to fighting for their own vision.
Fletcher also stated that labor union leaders at times compromise their agenda in order to maintain what little political support and influence they still have. However, he argued that compromising with political leaders would not help unions sustain themselves in the long-term. To truly become a strong movement, labor leaders need to create their own vision independent of other political groups and organize around that vision. Instead of making short-term concessions in order to stay influential, leaders must be willing to lose power in order to truly fight for the interest of workers.
As one of the few labor leaders who is not afraid to speak his mind, Bill Fletcher’s talk was not only informative but also inspiring; energizing attendees to be aware of crucial social issues and to dedicate themselves to whatever cause they are passionate about.
Courtney Hodge, News Staff Writer
Photo Credit: Nick Wertsch, Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor