5 Ways to Rebuild Labor and Transform America

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tags: labor history, pandemics, COVID-19

Organized labor is paralyzed at precisely the time when collective action is needed most. Since the election of Donald Trump, most unions have done little more than protect their own jurisdictions, offering no guidance on what must be done during the pandemic.

Yet the spread of Covid-19 and its economic fallout have created an opening for labor to lead a mass movement. These events have shown how little remains of the social safety net the working class helped build nearly a century ago. Unions can now push the country toward a Third Reconstruction, an idea developed by several writers, most notably the historian Manning Marable. The term invokes both the Reconstruction era after the Civil War and the civil rights movement of the 1960s, a Second Reconstruction. While weaker than in the past, trade unions are still among the few groups with enough resources to advance a transformation that addresses not just racial injustice but also economic inequity, environmental catastrophe, and imperialism. Calling this effort a reconstruction is not overstating the case: Unless something dramatic is undertaken, the aftermath of Covid-19 will be economic and social collapse.

To bring about a Third Reconstruction, there are five areas where labor needs to come together and fight.


Fifth, workers will be in a far better situation if unions support organizing the unemployed. As Michael Goldfield documents in his new and important work The Southern Key, organizing unemployed workers beginning in 1930 (led first and foremost by the Communist Party) was instrumental in building a labor renaissance. With at least 23 million people out of work, organizing the unemployed is more important than ever, and it must take various forms. Given the constraints imposed by Covid-19, social distancing will need to be factored in, but immediate relief, including food provision and eviction resistance, is crucial. Organized labor must also demand that the government provide longer-term assistance such as a guaranteed income. At the very least, unions should support the organizations already doing great work, like the Right to the City Alliance and Grassroots Global Justice.

Read entire article at The Nation

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