Feb 11, 2021
US unions traditionally operate on a 'colorblind' approach to organizing, but focusing on class issues alone often fails to acknowledge that class is also racially coded. Unions need to combat racial disparities and inequality within its own membership and leadership. Diverse leadership brings lived experience to decision-making and problem-solving that can work against racist and classist discrimination.
Innovation in organizing helps better serve union members. 'Whole-union organizing' looks at all the problems facing a union demographic. These may include immigration, police violence, and institutional safety issues, as well as race and pay issues. Working to alleviate these types of problems improves members' lives. Addressing issues of justice, in addition to economics, is key to the future of the labor market and labor movements.
Current labor laws are 90 years old and need to be updated and reimagined. New laws should strive to create racial and economic equity, as well as social, prison, and climate justice. For example, setting pay-scales by industry can eliminate race and gender discrimination; and loan forgiveness could be based on wealth instead of income, alleviating the burden of student debt for the poor.
Tamara L. Lee, Esq. is an industrial engineer, labor lawyer, and Rutgers professor. She received her Ph.D. from the department of labor relations, law and history from the ILR School at Cornell University. Her academic research focuses on the popular participation of workers in macro-level political and economic reform in Cuba and the United States. She also conducts research on the political practice of workers under the National Labor Relations Act, the intersection of labor and racial justice, cross-movement solidarity building and the impact of radical adult education on workplace democracy. Her teaching focuses on identity politics in the workplace, and labor market discrimination.
You can follow her on Twitter @tamilee2003