A new era for labor?
In The Washington Post, Jacob Bogage, Aaron Gregg and Gerrit De Vynck report that the A.L.U.’s deeply personal, grass-roots strategy could provide a new playbook for 21st-century labor activism. Other recent union victories at six Starbucks coffee shops in Buffalo, they note, were also won by worker-led, independent organizations.
In the view of Steven Greenhouse, a labor journalist and former Times reporter, the advantage of this “worker to worker” model is that it neutralizes mistrust — whether instinctive or actively cultivated by the employer as a union-busting tactic — of unions as bureaucratic, unaccountable third parties. Instead, workers “feel that they’re choosing between their employer and an energized, concerned group of co-workers and friends that is eager to build a better workplace,” he writes in The Atlantic. “For many workers, that makes voting for the union a no-brainer.”
Sara Nelson, the head of the flight attendants’ union, also sees promise in this model: The future of American unionizing efforts “can’t be about people coming in from the outside with an organizing plan that people have to follow,” she told The Times. “It has to come from within the workplace.”
Broader dissatisfaction with the economy could make workers even more receptive to the idea of unionizing. As The Times’s Noam Scheiber has reported, many workers are resentful about being deemed “essential” during the pandemic, only to be treated as disposable. And while wages are rising at a faster clip than they have in previous years, thanks to a tighter labor market, they have not kept pace with inflation.
“When workers feel squeezed or that their household budgets are squeezed while the companies they work for are so profitable, that can create agitation and energy toward organizing,” Rebecca Givan, an associate professor of labor studies at Rutgers University, told The Washington Post.
History shows that labor mobilization can be a self-reinforcing trend. “Sometimes, a single victory can spark a wave of victories,” Harold Meyerson writes in The American Prospect. “That’s what happened in 1937, as the great U.A.W. sit-down strike, occupying General Motors’ Flint, Michigan, factories, won them a contract with GM and inspired dozens of similar campaigns and hundreds of successful unionization campaigns across the land.”