Union democracy shouldn’t be seen as an abstract good separate from more important strategic considerations about rebuilding labor. Without democratizing labor, we can’t rebuild labor.
Chris Bohner is a union researcher and activist.
From the UAW to the Writers Guild, this year’s biggest contract victories have been won by unions in which members directly elect their leaders. That’s a right denied to most US union members — but it may be the key to unleashing broader labor militancy.
The United Food and Commercial Workers, one of the US’s largest unions, has shed members despite seeing its bank account expand over the last decade. A rank-and-file reform movement wants to democratize UFCW and push the union to spend its resources on organizing.
American unions’ members are down, but their finances are through the roof. The labor movement can’t rebuild its dismally low membership unless unions start spending their resources on aggressive new organizing campaigns.
Despite years of employer attacks, unions still have vast resources at their disposal. This moment of worker upsurge is the time to use those assets to fund aggressive organizing.