It's Labor Day, and more than ever it's time to think about how labor moves forward.
The labor movement has to change with the times. So much of the policy, posture and rhetoric of the movement was forged in brutal fights during the industrial unionizing era. That point of view made sense for then, but times have changed.
The largest unions now are public employee and teacher unions. The rhetoric and aggressiveness that was needed and that often worked when the issues were literally about life and death on the job and starvation at home just don't apply so easily to the more complex and nuanced issues that most people face in their jobs today.
A good template to look at is the approach taken by the local firefighters union and the trade unions.
What I liked about working with the firefighters was that they were constructive. When they wanted something, they came to us with a proactive proposal to be more efficient. When they wanted the city to spend money on, say, a new fire station, they might propose something that saved money, like creative staffing which cut overtime costs.
Same goes for the carpenters, electricians, plumbers, painters and other trades. They generally have very good working relationships with the contractors they work for. They compromise and remain flexible so that their industry can grow, especially during these hard times.
With so few of us belonging to unions these days, public relations is more important than ever. A new union movement that is seen as flexible, innovative, and progressive will win over the general public. The old model just doesn't work any more. It's time for a new, modern labor movement led by leaders who understand the new environment.