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How ‘Alt’ Can Alt-Labor Go?





Recent one-day strikes at McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants around the country grab the public’s attention and generate much more buzz than standard union/management contract disputes.

Showcasing the personal struggle and courage of low-wage workers and the greedy companies which refuse to raise their pay, these “Fast Food Forward” protests sidestep traditional collective bargaining practices. But much of the funding and organizing talent comes directly from established national unions such as SEIU [Service Employees International Union].

Alt-labor campaigns portray a labor movement dedicated to building power among part-time, entry-level service workers and communicate a central message of organizing: That the only way to bring employers around is to stir up trouble.

Could Alt-Labor’s positive spin rub off on some of the labor movement’s other challenges, where public sympathy is in shorter supply? For example: unionized government workers facing upcoming pension battles in many cities and states.

Another question is whether alt-labor projects divert attention and resources from the heavy lifting unions must do to defend current contracts and capture work in existing unionized sectors.

We’ve exposed a few cracks in McDonald’s and even at Walmart. But that doesn’t solve the puzzle of how American unions will overcome intense employer resistance and an obstructive legal framework to bring the most exploited class of workers into our movement.

(This post first appeared on Labor Lou and is republished with permission.)

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