By Joshua Pechthalt, CFT President
It’s time for the labor movement to remember what energized our ranks and inspired American workers to join unions. As we face a continued decline in membership and legal challenges that threaten to erode the strength of public sector unions and the movement as a whole, now more than ever, we need to take our message to the streets.
The crisis confronting organized labor has become more severe than at any time since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Education unions, once seen as allies in the fight for public education, are now vilified. It is clear we will not get a fair shake from the political establishment.
There is a real possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court will end agency fee when it rules on the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. That outcome would dramatically destabilize public sector unions and be disastrous for labor.
The CFT, AFT, and other public sector unions understand that if we are to survive this crisis we must engage all our members. The CFT’s campaign, Building Power, is an ambitious effort to connect with members and non-members on the value of unionism and why strong locals are the only real power we have to fight for wages and benefits.
But while member engagement is essential, it is not enough. We must couple the struggle for bread-and-butter issues with a vision for quality public education. And although infusing our organizing work with a compelling vision of public education is critical, that still is not enough.
This and much of what the labor movement is discussing in response to the impending crisis of the Friedrichs case is about an inward-looking effort. Absent are the massive numbers of people in the streets who can energize our members and those Americans who support our just demands.
In the early 1980s, when President Reagan broke the PATCO strike — by firing 11,345 members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization — he sent a strong message to labor that a new era was beginning. The union movement has been on the defensive ever since, setting the stage for today.
The Supreme Court’s recent decision on marriage equality showed the strength of organizing and mobilizing. While the justices may say they look only to the Constitution to make their rulings, they are not immune to the pressure of mass demonstrations and the nightly news.
With the future of the labor movement in the balance, it is time we employ the tactics that first galvanized American workers to create it. Now more than ever, we must mobilize our members and supporters. A series of marches and demonstrations, culminating in a march on Washington in the spring, prior to the Friedrichs ruling, will send a powerful message to the Supreme Court justices and the presidential hopefuls alike that the labor movement is prepared to fight.
We have a unique opportunity to revitalize and renew a progressive movement that speaks to the frustrations and desires of millions of Americans. The time to act is now.