Can Independent Unions be the Future?

Organizing Workers

            Little Rock      A dozen of us, mostly old labor union hands as organizers or lawyers or whatever was necessary, got together on Zoom to talk about how to support the movement moment among workers today.  There was good feeling and an undercurrent of commitment to understand the current situation, despite whatever wisdom and scars continued as a constant from hard won experience.  The bottom line was clear.  People wanted to find a way to come together to help, whatever that might be and however they could.

One contradiction kept bubbling up in the conversation.  The energy and a lot of the excitement is coming from independent, worker-based organizations, but what’s left of the resources are still firmly ensconced in the accounts of institutional labor.  One of our number shared results of a recent analysis of AFL-CIO unions along with SEIU and noted the number available was more than $4 billion.  Likely that’s just turnover of various sorts and doesn’t include what one old comrade called the “edifice complex” of sunk resources that many institutional unions have in their buildings and real estate.

There’s no question that independent union efforts are in the news.  Certainly, led by the continued excitement over the victory of the Amazon Labor Union in one of the Staten Island, others are joining in.  The Payday Report reports that:

workers at a chain of Quiktrip convenience stores in Texas launched an independent union effort by filing for a union representation election.  Chipotle workers in Augusta, Maine also launched the independent Chipotle United effort as they seek to unionize the chain nationally. If successful, the Chipotle workers would be the first in the nation to unionize. 

We helped workers at Dollar General, Family Dollar, and Dollar Tree to set up Dollar Store Workers United so that they can move forward to mold an organization out of the thousands of workers who have raised issues with the companies.

Other veterans noted the unflattering comparison of the recent AFL-CIO convention with the record-breaking crowd of 4000 that assembled in Chicago at the Labor Notes meeting.  Small caucuses in the past of labor journalists suddenly had blossomed into a meeting of 100 across all kinds of platforms.  Others found surprising hope and excitement in new leadership in central body and state labor federations.

All agree that something big is happening.  There was less consensus on whether the resources could be built to respond, but the fact that some felt it was possible was a sign of hope and optimism in its own right.