Thinking of Labor's Future: April 23, 2012

What Will the Next Generation of Unionists
Do for Millions of Workers Still Unemployed?

“Thinking about Labor’s Future”

(The First in a Series of articles)

By Harry Kelber

Introductory Remarks:

This series will describe what the labor movement has achieved for America’s working families during the past two decades, and the problems (and opportunities) that will confront the unions of tomorrow.

Each week, we will do an article on a separate issue. In addition to jobs and unemployment, we will include columns on war and nuclear threats, union organizing, leadership, political activity, healthcare, education, retirement income, technology, the workplace, taxes, global relations and working class culture—not necessarily in that order.

At the same time, we will offer suggestions (and we welcome yours) about the issues that the next generations of unions will face, with the understanding that some ideas may be difficult to accomplish.


In his last “State of the Union” address, President Barack Obama claimed that, as a result of his job-creating policies, “ in the last 22 months, businesses have created more than three million jobs.”

Obama, early on, pushed through a $787 billion stimulus package through Congress to spur job growth — and that added another two-to-three million jobs, it is said.

And then there was the bailout of the auto industry that saved or added a million new jobs for auto workers. But the bailout of the nation’s top banks yielded less than nothing in providing jobs for the unemployed.

Let us accept Obama’s claims for job-creation, even if some of the figures are questionable. The hard fact is that, as of April 6, 2012, there are 9.7 million people still unemployed, and millions more who can’t find a full-time job or who are so discouraged they have stopped looking for one.

With the improvement in a still fragile economy, the White House has largely given up its priority on creating jobs, assuming that, as the economy grows, enough jobs will be found to silence the clamor about jobs as an issue. It will be up to business, not the government, to supply the necessary jobs. At the 2012 presidential elections, there may still be talk about creating jobs , but no one expects any positive action.

What about the AFL-CIO’s efforts? Its president, Richard Trumka, has designed a six-point program for creating a healthy, productive economy that could create a mass of decent jobs, but neither Congress nor the White House is listening. Worse still, AFL-CIO leaders avoid using non-violent direct action in support of their jobs program.

AFL-CIO campaigns “to Make Wall Street Pay” ended in failure, because there was no aggressive action to compel the big banks to compensate the victims of their reckless investments that helped to bring on the economic crisis.

What Can Unions of the Future Do about Jobs?

They can wage a top priority campaign for massive work projects, similar to those of the New Deal of the 1930s, with useful jobs that will be used to enrich the nation. We need better transportation, and repair of the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges, as well as an update of our water, electric and sewage systems.

We will need masses of people to improve our schools, hospitals, post offices, airports, libraries and public buildings. We should clear the slums of many of run-down cities. And fortunately, we have a reservoir of unemployed people and newcomers to the workforce who can be put to work on these projects.

Our unions should be particularly concerned about the 5.3 million people who have not had a paycheck for 27 weeks or more. The Obama administration and the AF L-CIO leadership have woefully underestimated, not only the financial, but psychological pressures this huge number of individuals are enduring.. it is hard for us, who are well-fed, well-housed and well-cared for, to understand the rage, bitterness and humiliation the jobless must feel every day of their lives, especially in front of their children.

Unions of the future must consider creating a real union of the unemployed, whose survival demands would be seriously considered by Congress and the White House.

It is not science fiction to imagine that one or more demagogues may some day come forward to organize the unemployed to take violent, mindless actions that will threaten our institutions and cause incalculable damage. A proper attitude to the unemployed can prevent such a nightmarish outcome.

What else might happen if our unions ignore the unemployed? We will increase homelessness, poverty and crime, and the creation of an underclass that can disfigure America’s stature on the world stage.

The unions of tomorrow won’t be able to avoid the problem of jobs for the unemployed. They do have an opportunity to develop new options that the old AFL-CIO never dared to pursue.

The second in our series on “Thinking about Labor’s Future” will be posted here on Tuesday, May 1, 2012, and can be viewed at our two web sites: ( and (

The second in our series on “Thinking about Labor’s Future” will be posted here on Tuesday, May 1, 2012, and on our two web sites: and on