Labor scholar Kate Bronfenbrenner explains how workers have helped usher in a new era of union militancy.

by Glenn Daigon, The Progressive

These days, organized labor appears to be doing better than it has in decades. The Teamsters, the United Auto Workers, the Screen Actors Guild, and the Writers Guild all won major gains after large-scale collective bargaining campaigns this year. Can organizers build on this momentum? What tactics will work and what challenges lie ahead?

Kate Bronfenbrenner, a leading labor academic and director of labor education research at Cornell University’s School of Industrial Relations, provided The Progressive with some insight on the future of labor.

strike signs lying on the ground

Q: Some say that because American unions are organized by Locals rather than industrywide, they are ineffective. They think that Locals are mainly interested in maintaining their own fiefdoms rather than organizing industry-wide campaigns like those seen in Europe. Is that criticism valid?

Kate Bronfenbrenner: The definition of a Local is so different with each union, that you can’t really say that. In SEIU (Service Employees International Union), for example, the Locals are bigger than probably more than half of the unions in the United States. In other unions, like the Steelworkers, the Locals are each plant. [With] SEIU, most of the organizing is happening at a Local.

It is more that there are small Locals that don’t have the resources. In some unions, the leaders work part-time in the bargaining unit, and the International is not giving them the funding, [so] yes, there is going to be an issue. [There are] organizing drives where the Locals all connect with each other and the International is not doing any organizing but the Locals go and organize. There is really so much variety that you can’t make a statement like that.

Read More