BACK

Blog

Amy Dean On Do Unions Matter?

dean_icon_tag America is obsessed with the issue of trade unions again.  Labor unions have gained new prominence as Democratic legislators from Wisconsin and Indiana have left their states for the greener pastures of Illinois to avoid participating in votes to cut back or eliminate collective bargaining rights for public employees.  Thousands of protestors have taken up residence in the Wisconsin State Capitol to voice their anger at Republican Governor Scott Walker’s attempts to break the state’s unions.

Are labor unions relevant in the 21st century?  Amy Dean, an author, activist and social entrepreneur whose roots are in the American labor movement and who served 10 years as the President and CEO of the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council in the Silicon Valley, says the answer is a resounding “yes”.  Dean is also co-author of the new book, “A New New Deal: How Regional Activism Will Reshape the American Labor Movement.”  During her tenure with the AFL-CIO, Dean represented 90 separate unions with more than 110,000 members.

Dean points out that before President Ronald Reagan famously busted the air traffic controllers’ union in 1981, there was strong bipartisan support for organized labor.  Even Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower acknowledged the impact of unions and said the interests of employers and employees were about mutual prosperity.  According to Dean, things have changed because the post World War II economy consisted of industries that were dedicated to building the nation’s base to assure this prosperity.  Unfortunately, that consensus started to break down by the mid-1970s until today, we have no agreement about how our economy should grow, what our obligations are to one another, and how we can compete optimally in a global economy.

In a recent interview for the Alter NOW Podcasts, Dean says that the building trades and entertainment industry are good models to look at for the next generation of employee organization.  In this system, as people move from job to job, they have a base wage through union membership.  Built into that base wage are healthcare insurance and a pension, again enabled by membership in a labor union.

Also, Dean asserts that unions are not the reason for outsourcing and that corporations are motivated by other issues.  In today’s economy, capital wants to locate where land-use policy is predictable, thanks to proactive regional efforts.  Companies want to be in areas that have good K-12 schools, open spaces, a high quality of life, decent affordable housing, a functional mass transit system, proximity to a world-class airport and the kind of knowledge workers that companies need to succeed.  Unfortunately, Dean says, unless Americans are prepared to deal with the issue of tax reform, there will be little conversation in America about any social agenda.

In today’s economy, capital wants to locate where land-use policy is predictable, thanks to proactive regional efforts.  Companies want to be in areas that have good K-12 schools, open spaces, a high quality of life, decent affordable housing, a functional mass transit system, proximity to a world-class airport and the kind of knowledge workers that companies need to succeed.  Unfortunately, Dean says, unless Americans are prepared to deal with the issue of tax reform, there will be little conversation in America about any social agenda,  Yet, these are the things that capital needs to be successful.

Read James Surowiecki’s take on the current state of labor unions in The NewYorker.

To listen to Amy Dean’s full interview on why unions matter, click here.

Categories

Archives