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What Happens If Labor Dies?

The only way unions can regain their strength and provide a counterweight to corporate power is if liberals join the fight.

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Having played a major role in the unsuccessful 2010 battle to persuade Congress to reform labor law, Cohen is convinced labor needs “to build a movement of 50 million Americans for democracy.” If labor wants to win more rights for workers, he argues, it must first break the stranglehold that big money and conservatives have on our politics by winning campaign--finance reform, abolishing the Senate’s supermajority requirements, outlawing voter suppression, and legalizing undocumented immigrants.

Beyond some visionary officials and activists, does labor recognize how radically it has to change? Too many leaders, says one union veteran, still think that “labor is selling toothpaste, something that’s always needed, that’s not going to go out of business. But we’re not selling toothpaste. We’re selling landline telephones. There won’t be a market for landline phones ten years from now.”

Can unions move beyond landlines? Even if they can, will our corporate-dominated political system still indulge their existence, let alone permit their rebirth? Labor can’t win this fight by itself. It not only needs to make common cause with the broader liberal community; it needs the liberal community to understand and embrace Schlesinger’s dictum that the only alternative to class dominance is class conflict. Heightening that conflict and strengthening unions, or whatever new institutions emerge to fight for working people, must now become liberalism’s primary task.


Harold Meyerson is editor-at-large for The American Prospect and a columnist for the Washington Post

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