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A New New Deal: How Regional Activism Will Reshape the American Labor Movement
A New New Deal: How Regional Activism Will Reshape the American Labor Movement
A New New Deal: How Regional Activism Will Reshape the American Labor Movement
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A New New Deal: How Regional Activism Will Reshape the American Labor Movement

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A Century Foundation Book

In A New New Deal, the labor movement leaders Amy B. Dean and David B. Reynolds offer a bold new plan to revitalize American labor activism and build a sense of common purpose between labor and community organizations. Dean and Reynolds demonstrate how alliances organized at the regional level are the most effective tool to build a voice for working people in the workplace, community, and halls of government. The authors draw on their own successes to offer in-depth, contemporary case studies of effective labor-community coalitions. They also outline a concrete strategy for building power at the regional level. This pioneering model presents the regional building blocks for national change. A diverse audience—both within the labor movement and among its allies—will welcome this clear, detailed, and inspiring presentation of regional power-building tactics, which include deep coalition-building, leadership development, policy research, and aggressive political action.

A New New Deal explores successful coalitions forged in Los Angeles, Boston, Denver, San Jose, New Haven, and Atlanta toward goals such as universal health insurance for children and sensible redevelopment efforts that benefit workers as well as businesses. The authors view partnerships between labor and grassroots organizations as a mutually beneficial strategy based on shared goals, resulting in a broadened membership base and increased organizational capacity. They make the innovative argument that the labor movement can steward both industry and community and make manifest the ways in which workplace battles are not the parochial concerns of isolated workers, but a fundamental struggle for America's future. Drawing on historical parallels, the authors illustrate how long-term collaborations between labor and community organizations are sowing the seeds of a new New Deal.

HerausgeberILR Press
Erscheinungsdatum15. Mai 2011
A New New Deal: How Regional Activism Will Reshape the American Labor Movement
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    A New New Deal - Amy B. Dean


    This book presents a strategy for building power for working people in America’s metropolitan regions—and ultimately in the country as a whole. It is addressed to leaders and activists in the labor movement and their allies. Its authors have long been involved—one primarily as a leader, one primarily as a teacher and scholar—in the effort to revitalize the labor movement at the grassroots level. We believe that rebuilding labor’s power at the regional level is essential for rebuilding the progressive movement as a whole—and for rebuilding American democracy. Despite the many difficulties it has faced over the past few decades, the American labor movement remains the social force with the greatest capacity to foster a broad-based movement for social and economic change. Among America’s social movement organizations, unions by far enjoy the largest direct membership, staff, and other resources. In looking at who spends money on electoral politics, organized labor is the only player even remotely competing with corporate America.

    This is not to say that community leaders and organizations are somehow secondary to regional power-building work. To the contrary, as we make clear throughout this book, community players have to be equal partners with unions. Indeed, to succeed over the long term, regional power building has to not only build the membership and capacity of organized labor but also help grassroots community groups grow and develop. The question is, however, who has the resources and capacity to convene a wide range of groups at the regional level? As the experiences in this book will demonstrate, organized labor has proven to be the natural anchor to pull together the many currents of progressive activism at the regional level. In other words, while meaningful change in America requires integrating the many currents of social protest, it cannot happen if the labor movement is not part of the story. In this book we examine how labor plays such a uniting role in regions across the country.

    The story of the campaign for children’s health care in San Jose, California, captures the significance and excitement of the regional power-building work explored in this book. In the spring of 2000, People Acting in Community Together (PACT), a faith-based community organization in Santa Clara County, surveyed the 30,000 members of its fourteen participating congregations about their health care. They discovered that in some churches more than 45 percent of families had at least one member who lacked health insurance—even though 80 percent of the families without insurance were headed by an adult who worked full-time.¹ PACT leader Maritza Maldonado called it a wake-up call to all of us.

    As PACT decided to take up the issue, it was joined by the AFL-CIO’s South Bay Labor Council and its policy affiliate, Working Partnerships USA (WPUSA). Local labor councils are old but often somnolent expressions of organized labor. The South Bay Labor Council, however, was an exception. Its members had come to believe that labor needed to seek community leadership by becoming the champion of the concerns of all working families in the region—including the poor, minorities, and immigrants, and not just union members. It had set up WPUSA five years before as a think-and-act tank that could both provide public policy analysis and develop the community leadership and coalitions necessary to implement change.

    Santa Clara County is the core of Silicon Valley, the region known at the turn of the twenty-first century as the software capital of the world. One of the wealthiest places on Earth, Silicon Valley produced sixty new millionaires a day during the boom times of the 1990s.² But a highly publicized series of reports by WPUSA revealed that there were two Silicon Valleys. Along with its wealth, Silicon Valley’s new economy was producing poverty, inequality, and insecurity on a massive scale. A new set of policies—indeed, a new social vision based on providing for the needs of all members of the community—was required to counter this widening divide.

    Unlike traditional think tanks, WPUSA was not only interested in identifying problems and proposing policies to meet them but also aimed to develop specific campaigns that would generate coalitions and begin to realize pieces of an alternative. It worked hand in hand with the labor council in this quest and took full advantage of the political clout the labor council could put behind policies it supported.

    WPUSA saw an important part of its work as bringing together a cross-section of community leaders to learn about Silicon Valley’s economy, form ongoing relationships with each other, and share ideas about what to do about the region’s problems. When the health care campaign began, WPUSA had recently pulled together a diverse array of over three hundred stakeholders—including union organizers, housing advocates, service providers, environmentalists, and planners—in a series of roundtable discussions to establish a community blueprint, a set of policy priorities intended to guide its work for the next several years. These stakeholders had identified affordable health care as one of their key issues and had developed an agenda for action.

    Often American trade unions have approached the question of health care as something to be won for their members at the bargaining table. Some have even seen public provision of health care as undermining one of the key selling points for union membership. But when the South Bay Labor Council and WPUSA were approached by PACT, they took a very different approach. They identified children’s health care as a need of workers and the community that they should be addressing. They identified PACT as a community ally that they should be working with to build broader power for working people in the region. And they recognized that a campaign for a program to provide health care for all children would be a great opportunity for strengthening their roles as leaders fighting for a better life for people in Silicon Valley.

    As a result, WPUSA decided to work with PACT to launch the Children’s Health Initiative (CHI). They set as their goal to make San Jose, the region’s largest city and the fourth largest in California, the first city in America to guarantee health care coverage for all children.

    Then the real work began. They worked out a plan to fill the gaps in existing programs, such as the exclusion of children because their family incomes were too far above the poverty line or because they couldn’t prove legal immigration status. They identified potential sources of funding, including existing state and federal programs; funds allocated to local governments from the recent national tobacco lawsuit settlement; and charitable contributions. They built a support coalition whose partners ranged from the Santa Clara Family Health Plan, a major provider of health services to low-income people, to UCLA’s prestigious Center for Health Policy Research, and from Santa Clara County’s Health and Hospital System to, eventually, an association of big Silicon Valley tech firms. The South Bay Labor Council used its well-established ties with local political leaders and its considerable political clout to drum up support among city and county officials.

    They asked San Jose mayor Ron Gonzales to commit $2 million from the city’s share of the national tobacco lawsuit settlement to the program. But the mayor, pursuing other priorities, refused. Supporters responded with a series of actions, culminating with the mobilization of more than 1,000 CHI supporters at a critical meeting of the San Jose City Council. The council vote was split 5–5, with Mayor Gonzales breaking the tie with a vote against the CHI. But the confrontation only heightened public attention to the issue. After the city council vote, the argument that tobacco money ought to be invested in healthier kids resonated throughout the community, according to PACT executive director Matt Hammer.³

    A key theme of the South Bay Labor Council and WPUSA has been the need to treat areas like Silicon Valley not just as individual municipalities but as regions. Accordingly, the organizations moved to outflank San Jose’s mayor by taking the issue to the county level. Within a week, the Board of Supervisors of Santa Clara County voted to adopt the Children’s Health Initiative and fund it with $3 million of their own tobacco lawsuit settlement funds. The county’s action forced the city’s hand, and at a subsequent meeting the San Jose City Council voted 11–0 to fund the program.

    CHI advocates had established a good working relationship with the Santa Clara County Health and Hospital System during the campaign. As the Santa Clara Family Health Plan, the Health and Hospital System, PACT, and WPUSA began designing the new program, they made sure it realized the goal of guaranteeing health care for all of Santa Clara County’s 70,000 uninsured children. Run by the Family Health Plan, the program would be open to all children, regardless of immigration status; application would take a matter of minutes; and the plan would provide for all those who were ineligible for existing programs but couldn’t afford to buy their own health insurance.

    The new program was named Healthy Kids. According to Robert Sillen, executive director of the Santa Clara Valley Health and Hospital System, We understood that the creation of Healthy Kids would give us the opportunity to tell working parents something we could never say before: that, no matter what your immigration status or your income, if you take the time to apply your children will be insured.

    On January 2, 2001, Santa Clara became the first county in the United States to offer health insurance to all of its children. Healthy Kids began reaching out to the families who needed it. For example, more than 3,000 people, mostly immigrants, gathered at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church for a kickoff event with live music, food, and programs for kids. The church became a giant enrollment center, and county workers registered more than 500 children for health insurance. Within a year, CHI was providing health care for more than 25,000 children.

    A 2005 study by Mathematica Policy Research has found that children enrolled in Healthy Kids are predominantly from two-parent working households that have lived in the county for at least two years. Nonetheless, two-thirds of the children enrolled did not have any health insurance coverage for six months or longer before their enrollment. Healthy Kids made a difference; as the study notes,

    Participation in Healthy Kids leads to dramatic increases in the medical care that children receive. These improvements include large gains in access to, and use of, care; sizable reductions in unmet need; and improvements in parents’ confidence in, and satisfaction with, care.

    Participation in Healthy Kids leads to dramatic improvements in dental and vision care, including a roughly threefold increase in whether children have a usual source of care for these services, receive a regular checkup, and receive a dental procedure such as a cavity filling or tooth extraction.

    CHI was wildly popular throughout California and was soon widely imitated. A poll found that 78 percent of Californians support health insurance coverage for every child in the state. By 2005, nine other counties had adopted programs similar to Healthy Kids and another twenty counties had them in the works.⁷ Someday the program may be looked back on as a model—and a building block—for the national provision of health care for all.

    The Children’s Health Initiative, it turned out, helped the region’s unions directly contribute to the interests of their members. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), as well as other unions, had recently identified health care as a critical issue; the CHI gave them a concrete victory in pursuing it. Leaders of unions like the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union (HERE) and the SEIU were sometimes surprised to learn how many of their own members’ children were eligible for the program. And they found that public standards for what health insurance programs should include actually strengthened their hand by upping the ante at the bargaining table. More broadly, the respect and clout the labor council and WPUSA won from this and similar community leadership activities have contributed to their ability to help diverse unions in organizing, bargaining, and policy campaigns.

    The CHI was also a success for the broader social and political objectives of the South Bay Labor Council and WPUSA. It successfully positioned them as community leaders. An editorial in the prestigious San Jose Mercury News, which had bitterly opposed previous local labor initiatives, declared CHI an incredible success, adding, What a credit to the initiative’s visionary sponsors—Working Partnerships USA, the local labor-affiliated research group, and People Acting in Community Together (PACT), the faith-based neighborhood organizers…. Community leaders in and out of public office who’ve been part of this initiative should be proud of what they’ve accomplished—and of the example they’re setting for the nation.

    Healthy Kids also exemplified the social vision of an inclusive community that the labor council and WPUSA were trying to impart. Their insistence that all kids who needed it should be covered regardless of financial or immigrant status served as an emblem of this vision. As the San Jose Mercury News editorial noted, the CHI was not just an isolated program, but one effort—among many needed—to tackle one symptom of the growing gap between rich and poor in this county.

    Building Power for Working People

    For some Americans, the past few decades have been the best of times. But the great majority of Americans have not shared in this prosperity. For them, the new economy has meant a deterioration in the quality of jobs, growing insecurity, and a squeeze between rising expenses and stagnating incomes. Their social safety net has been shredded; their basic rights as workers and simply as human beings have been eroded.

    This growing polarization results from a loss of power by working people—in their unions, popular organizations, and the public sector. That loss of power is manifested in a decline in union membership, now limited to 12 percent of the workforce; a dismantling of social programs that once provided basic minimum standards for all Americans; an inability to elect political representatives who fight for the interests of working people; and a domination of political discourse by those who oppose the use of government and community institutions to provide well-being when the market doesn’t.

    Large corporations and the wealthy minority have managed not only to elect politicians favorable to their views but have established an entire apparatus of political alliances, think tanks, lobbyists, media, public relations flacks, and coalitions with grassroots groups that support them—despite having radically different economic interests. As a result, elite interests have established a capacity to determine the direction of society—in short, to govern.

    The principal vehicles that working people have used to pursue power in the United States are the labor movement, other social movements, and the Democratic Party. How to rebuild all three has been an ongoing focus of discussion and experimentation for both activists and scholars.

    There is no magic bullet. Unions, social movements, or the Democratic Party cannot rebuild worker power alone; neither can organizing, political mobilization, policy development, or infrastructure building in and of themselves. And the problem cannot be solved independently at national or local levels. Indeed, cooperation among actions in all of these arenas is critical to reempowering working people.

    Recruiting voters for one election will not in itself reempower working people; nor will just signing up new union members. Rebuilding workers’ power requires developing an independent capacity to govern a constellation of ideas, institutions, alliances, strategies, and campaigns that can successfully contest corporate domination at the local, regional, state, and national levels. In this book we examine how progressive leaders are reestablishing a capacity to govern by beginning at the regional level.

    What built working people’s capacity to participate in governance in the past was a social vision that motivated them to make a long-term commitment to social change. The great democratic upsurge that brought the New Deal and the empowerment of organized labor in the 1930s and ’40s was the result of a vision of economic enfranchisement. It was embodied in specific policies and programs that put limits on working hours; eliminated child labor; created community colleges; instituted labor grievance procedures; and fought for adequate wages and benefits, overtime pay, health insurance and HMOs, old-age pensions, job security, housing, civil rights, civil liberties, and consumer protections. Each of these represented a partial realization of the broad vision of economic well-being and security for every family.

    Revitalization of the labor movement today requires such a social vision, based on the basic values of the labor movement—and of American society at its best. That vision must embody deeply held aspirations for an inclusive society that reverses the trend toward social and economic inequality. It must represent a cultural shift toward solving problems together rather than as isolated individuals. It must be embodied in specific policies and programs that expand the social wage guaranteed by public policy and ensure adequate housing, transportation, education, health care, and employment standards for all. It must encourage a new consensus about how our society ought to function. It must envision a new social contract among business, government, and workers that puts justice for working people at the center of public policy.

    Such a vision must grow organically out of local needs and struggles. It can be forged in workplaces through organizing and bargaining and, as this book explores, in communities through coalition building and political action. But at the same time it requires a deliberate process in which specific needs and objectives are synthesized into common programs.

    If organized labor is to lead such a progressive revitalization, unions must be more than narrow defenders of their members’ interests at work. They must become high-profile advocates for a new vision of the public good. It is by fighting and winning battles focused on common and deeply felt human values that organized labor can establish itself as a champion for the interests of the great majority of Americans.

    Place-Based Labor

    This process of progressive revitalization cannot occur purely at a national level. It must be place-based—that is, based in the workplaces and communities where people live, work, worship, and play. And today it must be rooted in the large metropolitan regions that are becoming increasingly crucial economic and political arenas in American life.

    For organized labor to play a constructive leadership role in this process, it must first commit itself to the importance of power building at the regional level. It must aspire to being a leader of the kinds of broad-based regional movements for shared prosperity and a sustainable future profiled in this book.

    The labor movement is already organized at the municipal level in central labor councils and is beginning to organize itself into larger-area labor federations. These institutions, composed of delegates from union locals in a given geographical area, have played an important role from the very beginnings of the labor movement. They bring together representatives of working people from a wide range of occupations, industries, communities, and subcultures around their common interests as workers. They often play a large role in local and regional politics. Many of the most successful current efforts at local and regional power building have been rooted in revitalized labor councils; they provide the ideal base in which labor may offer leadership and vision for the wider community.

    These local institutions, however, have often been divided by conflicts among narrow interests and by political alliances that promote the interests of particular groups of workers at the expense of others or the community as a whole. Many of the cases of regional power building examined in this book begin with the story of a revitalized and reunified regional labor body led by leaders that articulate a vision of the common interests of working people in the community. Elsewhere, revitalization efforts have grown out of particular local unions or coalitions of the willing that hope to spark the revitalization of the regional labor movement.

    The regional power-building work explored in this book involves a general model consisting of three legs: deep coalitions, policy work, and aggressive political action.

    Deep Coalitions

    Even when unified, trade unionists represent only part of the population that has been impoverished and disenfranchised over recent decades. In most communities, all but a tiny elite have been hurt by the domination of American life by giant corporations and ideological conservatism. Those who have witnessed discrimination—such as immigrants, African Americans and other ethnic minorities, women, gay men, lesbians, and the transgendered—have been hurt even more.

    These constituencies are represented by a new generation of organizations that have emerged in the past few years and will be reflected in the pages that follow. Some, like Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education in Los Angeles and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now on the national level, represent new organizing models in inner-city communities of poor people and people of color that seek labor alliances. Others represent a new generation of immigrant communities coming of age in the political process. And others, like those in the Interfaith Worker Justice and Gamaliel networks, reflect a new generation of interfaith organizing focused on social and economic justice.

    Such constituencies form a potential majority coalition that could become the governing force in America’s cities, towns, and regions. What is necessary for the emergence of such a governing force? It requires effective organizations, broad popular mobilization, a shared vision, practical policy proposals to implement that vision, and a political strategy that can change the direction of government. Labor can be a central part of such a force, but it needs a whole community of allies in order to acquire the necessary power. How can the labor movement help nurture such a community of allies?

    In most communities there are already a wide range of campaigns by particular groups—labor and otherwise—around particular issues. These often grow into coalitions that bring together groups from diverse sectors of the community. But these links often fade away once the immediate issue has passed. The regional power-building model examined in this book seeks to overcome this pattern to establish long-standing connections rooted in a common effort to build governing capacity over time.

    Such deep coalition building requires building a cross-community leadership team—a body of leaders with shared understandings who can think in terms of the movement as a whole. It requires the development of a common understanding of the problems of the community and a common vision of what needs to be done for the common good. It requires building a willingness to support each others’ objectives. And it involves a willingness at times to put the concerns of other coalition partners first in the interest of the coalition as a whole. Such deep coalition building can make a community of allies be more than just the sum of its parts. The results, as we will see, can represent both the specific interests of workers and more general values: democracy, fairness, opportunity, and solidarity.

    Policy Work

    Business is organized to govern from the regional to national levels through its organizations, think tanks, lobbyists, alliances, and control of political parties, candidates, and officeholders. It develops its own agendas and implements them. To be effective, labor and its allies must develop their own public policy agenda for working families, independent of business or politicians. They must redefine the public debate by putting the focus on issues that can unify workers and community allies, such as job security, affordable housing, health care, public safety, education, and transportation.

    This requires a research and policy capacity to define concrete steps toward a new social vision. To meet that need, regional labor groups have initiated think-and-act tanks, research and policy action organizations that typically include not only labor representatives but also community activists, religious leaders, and community-oriented academics on their boards. These organizations develop and propagate a broad vision of what’s wrong and what to do about it. Their research reports often reveal the dark side of how regional economies are affecting their residents—a story often concealed by business-oriented local boosters. They monitor how government and other local institutions are actually working—or not working. They draft concrete proposals for new programs and regulations. They help see that these are properly implemented and that those responsible for them are held accountable over time.

    Unlike conventional think tanks, however, these think-and-act tanks develop their approaches in constant interaction with the grassroots labor and community organizations these policies are intended to serve—and whose action is necessary to implement them. They often initiate new labor-community coalitions and provide the ammunition for their campaigns. Fostering relationships and coalitions is central to their work, which creates a unifying and achievable public policy agenda that serves as a focus both for grassroots organizations and for labor-friendly candidates and officeholders.

    Aggressive Political Action

    Gaining power in the political arena is an obvious way to implement such proposals. But in local and regional arenas, many organizations—unions and community organizations among them—often pursue narrow objectives that may benefit some of their members but are useless or even harmful for other workers, potential allies, and the broader public.

    Efforts to build regional power for working people therefore often start with attempts to overcome divisions within labor, and between labor and its allies. For example, new leadership in regional labor councils has often created new procedures that allow labor as a whole, rather than just individual unions, to endorse and campaign for political candidates. They have organized joint campaign and voter turnout operations that pool the efforts of all local unions. They have developed common labor platforms that provide an agenda for working people as a whole rather than just one or another particular union.

    This process can’t stop with organized labor, however. Building a force capable of governing requires that labor develops a similar process of political cooperation and mobilization with all those who share common interests. The goal is to build a sustained neighborhood and workplace infrastructure of activists who will bring out their neighbors on an ongoing basis for elections, referendums, or support for a strike or community campaign.

    As the cases covered in this book illustrate, political power building involves far more than just endorsing candidates and getting out the vote. It involves educating candidates about the labor movement and the needs and goals of working people. It involves recruiting, training, and promoting labor champions who will fight for labor’s agenda—and for its allies. It means fighting those who ignore, oppose, or turn against labor’s agenda—even if they have been political allies in the past or are members of the same party as labor’s champions. And it means participating in governance after elections are over—for example, by providing regular briefings for office holders and mobilizing support for progressive proposals.

    The result is that labor and its allies have an impact on how regions are actually governed. Such power building has led governments to adopt a comprehensive high-road economic development strategy, raise labor market standards, support union organizing, train and hire local residents for jobs, improve health care access, require community benefit standards for developers, and defend immigrant workers. Each such achievement represents a partial realization of the broad vision of economic well-being and security for every family, as well as representing the beginning of a shift in the direction society is going—a shift in governance. And such achievements lay the groundwork through which an increasing number of individuals and groups may identify the constellation of labor and its allies as a vehicle with which they can work to meet their needs.

    Why It Matters

    From the perspective of progressives, liberals, the Left, and all those who seek more democracy and equality in America, the three-legged power-building approach explored in this book provides a concrete and tested strategy for moving our society in that direction. Of course, it needs to be complemented by action at the state, national, and even global levels. But if the labor movement is prepared to stand for broad social interests, all advocates of greater democracy and equality have an interest in supporting it.

    From the point of view of organized labor, such a strategy provides a way to help meet the needs of its members along with all other working people. Well-connected and respected regional coalitions can be critical for organizing, especially in the public sector and in those many industries dependent on regional public decisions. Such coalitions have directly supported union organizing efforts; they have also won labor peace agreements, living wage ordinances, and other policies that have encouraged the recruitment of thousands of workers. They provide a way to address contingent and other difficult-to-organize workers. They present labor

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