OPINION: Washington Window: 2022 — The year ‘movement’ returned to the Labor Movement

Editor, Press Associates Union News Service

In past years, Press Associates Union News Service would plow (literally) through our front pages for the year’s headlines, put them together, and see what they told us. We omitted that last year and are doing so now, because the story can be better told impressionistically.

That’s because 2022 was the year “movement” visibly returned to the Labor Movement. And we’ll know the results, which we believe will be positive, in 2023 and beyond.

Workers and their allies hit the streets in a wide range of ways that had the rest of the country sitting up and paying concentrated attention to workers and their issues, and unions and their causes, with both resolve and empathy in a manner not seen in a while.

What they saw:

  • The determination of an independent grass-roots union, the Amazon Labor Union (ALU), to confront one of the nation’s three richest men, Jeff Bezos, and his monster goliath, Amazon, over wages and working conditions. It’s the fact they beat Bezos and won the union recognition election at the JFK8 warehouse on Staten Island by a healthy margin.
  • Workers hitting the streets for organizing drives. Workers hit the streets in record numbers in political campaigns, especially energized by two causes: The threat to workers’ rights and all other rights from the pro-dictatorial, Trump-dominated Republican Party and the explicit destruction, by the Republican-named Supreme Court majority, of a constitutional right to abortion.

Remember that same majority ruled five years ago that each state and local government worker could be a “free rider,” using unions, their protections and their services—and exploiting our dues — without paying one red cent.

  • It’s the fact that ALU now is invited to help organize other such grass roots union movements around the country and not just in warehousing.
  • NLRB – It’s the fact that there are so many organizing campaigns going, along with a record number of forced strikes. It’s that a short-staffed and completely overwhelmed National Labor Relations Board, its workers, and its supporters, lobbied for — and got — its first increase in funding in eight years, lest the NLRB have to furlough people.
  • At the start of 2022, another grassroots movement, Starbucks Workers United (SWU), broke through to organize a handful of Starbucks stores in Buffalo. By the end of the year SWU — with the Service Employees’ aid — had organized more than 260 Starbucks stores and pulled off a nationwide weekend walkout in early December. The NLRB is now seeking nationwide court orders against Starbucks’s rampant Labor law-breaking.

SWU forced Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to grudgingly agree to bargaining.

Starbucks workers:
(a) Canvassed their legions and came up with three demands immediately posted on their website.
(b) Held — or tried to hold — two bargaining sessions with Schultz’s toadies and his hired union-buster.
(c) Invited everyone to the bargaining via Zoom, which bosses despised. The bosses and the union-buster walked out of the first session for a “caucus” after five minutes and never returned and walked out of the second just as fast because everyone was seeing the firm’s true nature exposed on Zoom.

Notably, 2022 saw change from the bottom, with fed-up restaurant workers, Amazon workers, retail workers, fast food workers, Starbucks workers, adjunct professors, port truckers and others rebelling against corporate greed and exploitation.

It also saw generational change at the top, plus diversity, at the AFL-CIO with the election of President Liz Shuler and Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond as well as turnover at key unions, and admitting new unions with newer, younger members, led by working women, workers of color, or both.

Shuler herself helped put movement back into the Labor Movement: Setting organizing and political activism goals, erecting a structure and institute for organizing “the new economy,” promoting plans for a permanent political structure, with test cases this year in key swing states, and traveling the country speaking to workers, and gathering their ideas. She welcomes the grassroots independent unions, too.

We have in mind her session in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis–Saint Paul) with young worker-organizers. They had so many ideas for new directions for the Movement the meeting could have lasted far longer.

And that’s a key point: A lot of the new movement in the Labor Movement is from below and from younger workers, women and workers of color, the workers who need unions and who suffer from the worst exploitation. The more of those workers we can unionize, the better.

So that’s our impression of 2022: Movement visibly returned to the Labor Movement. May it only grow and grow. Let’s look forward to 2023. There’ll be a lot to “move” about.

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