Last Saturday’s commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington spotlighted the power of grassroots activism. But it was no exercise in nostalgia. Activists are pushing for social change across the nation, and I discuss dozens of these campaigns in my new book, The Activist’s Handbook, Second Edition: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, officially released today by UC Press. The book thoroughly revises and updates the 1996 edition, which the late Howard Zinn praised as “enormously valuable for anyone interested in social change.” The new edition adds my analysis of the strategies used by social movements around immigration reform, gay and lesbian rights, the Keystone XL Pipeline, school “reform” and other campaigns that really took off in the past decade.
While some believe the past 15 years have weakened the power of grassroots activism against big moneyed interests, I disagree. In fact, in writing the new book I realized that activism has increased since the original edition,
Why Labor Organizing Should be a Civil Right: Rebuilding a Middle-Class Democracy by Enhancing Worker Voice, by Moshe Z. Marvit and Richard D. Kahlenberg, was released last year to critical and academic acclaim but not nearly enough attention. The book, whose authors are both fellows at the progressive think tank the Century Foundation, lays out a simple, brilliant idea: to amend the Civil Rights Act so that it prohibits discriminating against workers for attempting to organize a union.
We recently had a chance to pick the authors’ brains about the inspiration for the book, how the legislation would work and why this is an idea whose time has come.
Feldner-Shaw: For those who haven’t heard about it, can you briefly describe the premise or thesis of the book?
Marvit and Kahlenberg: As the title suggests, the book Why Labor Organizing Should be a Civil Right makes the argument that labor activities are a civil right and should be treated as such by our laws.
You’ve probably heard it from a colleague, or maybe from a friend or family member:
“Kids these days… they’re just too ambivalent to care about labor unions or workers’ rights.”
But as it turns out, that’s just not true. Young people are actually big fans of unions. Fully 61 percent of young people view labor unions favorably – and that’s more than 10 points higher than the national average, according to a new Pew poll. In fact, young people are the only age group that views unions more favorably than they view corporations.
But despite the overwhelming support young people have for unions, they’re far less likely to belong to one. Harold Meyerson writes in the American Prospect:
The irony for unions —and in theory, the opportunity—is that the youngest Americans are the least unionized.
Gallup and Pew concur: Just over one-half of Americans approve of labor unions.
In late June, the Pew Research Center released the results of its biennial poll on unions and corporations, and reported that 51 percent of Americans had a favorable view of unions—up from just 41 percent in 2011, the last time Pew popped the question. Pew’s new number is almost identical to Gallup’s, which found that 52 percent of Americans approved of unions when it last asked that question in August of 2012. Gallup polls on union approval every year and has reported a 52 percent approval rating each of the past three years. Before then, union approval had hit an all-time low for Gallup surveys, with just 48 percent in 2009.
(This post first appeared on the American Prospect and is republished with permission.)
As the number of American public- and private-sector workers belonging to a labor union reached an all-time low this past year, many of us sat on the sidelines scratching our collective heads, wondering why. Academics and economists will say it’s because the type of work Americans do is changing and, as we shift from a manufacturing to a service economy, union jobs in factories (those that haven’t already been offshored) are being replaced by nonunion desk jobs. However, ask an average employee or person on the street why fewer workers belong to a union than a generation ago. They will most likely say it’s because unions have lost their relevance, are outdated concepts or that they aren’t needed.
But how can the latter be true when the mean real wages of American workers are lower than they were in the 1970s, around the time that union manufacturing jobs began globally migrating south and to Asia?