Many commentators have correctly observed that the reelection of Governor Scott Walker is a grave blow to unions, especially public sector unions. They went all in to defeat Walker and, despite the great outpouring of protest last year against his collective bargaining bill, he won by a greater margin this time than he did in 2010. But something else was exemplified by the Wisconsin results. It’s not that unions can’t win a defensive fight.
Once upon a time, The New Republic ran detailed, empathetic articles about the lives, ideas, and activism of American workers. “They seem easygoing, good-humored and straightforward Southerners,” wrote Edmund Wilson in a 1931 essay about the coal-miners of West Virginia, “so much in the old tradition of American backwoods independence that it is almost impossible to realize they have actually been reduced to the condition of serfs.” In 1966, Maury Maverick Jr. joined a mass march by Texas farmworkers that ended on Labor Day, on the steps of the state capitol building.
It's Labor Day, a time to commemorate and reexamine the role of organized labor in American life. The best way to do so, of course, is to browse this collection of classic TNR pieces on labor, written by senior editors John B. Judis and Jonathan Cohn: "Can Labor Come Back?" by John B. Judis. May 23, 1994. By the mid-1990s, it became conventional wisdom to think of organized labor in America as a fading political force.
I know I am always bashing my hometown newspaper, but I wake up with it in the morning (we’ve had to cancel the New York Times as an economy measure) and wince at its coverage. This morning, the paper has a story on AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Rich Trumka’s likely ascension to the head of the federation after President John Sweeney retires this year.
Las Vegas, Nevada AFL-CIO PRESIDENT John Sweeney is known for his bromides, and, at the opening of the Federation’s semiannual executive council meeting, he didn’t disappoint. “I think the labor movement has done some pretty great things over the last years,” he declared on February 28. But, at this three-day meeting, his studied complacency was punctured by threats, accusations, denunciations, and hand-wringing from the more than 50 union presidents who had come to Las Vegas.
Colored White: Transcending the Racial Past by David R. Roediger (University of California Press, 323 pp., $29.95) "What is a White Man?" asked Charles Chesnutt in the pages of the Independent, a mass-circulation weekly, in 1889. This was no mere academic question.
On November 15, when President Clinton's weary negotiators agreed to back China's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO), they set the stage for the last great struggle of this presidency. The battle lines are clear. Arrayed behind the administration is the entire political establishment: the four leading Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, every living former secretary of state and secretary of the treasury, and every major business lobby and farm lobby in Washington, D.C.
Over a thousand delegates gathered in early October at the Sheraton Chicago for the fifteenth annual Hispanic leadership conference. The gleaming hotel, towering over the Chicago River and Lake Michigan, seemed emblematic of Hispanics' growing political heft. Speakers at the conference included former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry G. Cisneros, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, and Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman.
John Sweeney's name rarely appears in print without the word "militant" attached to it. Sweeney first gained national prominence in 1995, when, as president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), he led striking janitors in a sit-in that blocked morning rush-hour traffic on Washington, D.C.'s Fourteenth Street Bridge for two hours. Later that year, Sweeney burnished his reputation as a confrontationalist by running (and winning) an insurgent campaign in the first-ever contested election for the presidency of the AFLl-CIO. Heavy-set and balding, Sweeney comes across like central c