Why? Not just because the organized labor movement today is full of self-serving bureaucrats who are out to enrich their pockets or their prestige at our expense. After all, there are many hard-working, sincere people in the ranks of union officials. But no matter how well-meaning they are, there are some fundamental flaws in the way the unions are structured today that makes them at best limited in what they can achieve.
The problem with the unions today starts with the way they function, with so much of the power in the hands of paid officials and not with the workers themselves. We say the alternative to this is direct democracy, with all decision-making flowing from the workplaces and local organizations, with elected delegates acting under direct mandates from those they represent, subject to immediate recall when they fail to carry out their mandates. Take away the concentrations of power and privilege and the careerists in the labor movement will have to find some other way to earn a living.
Another problem we see is the reliance on politicians and the electoral system that typifies so many unions today. Yet most union members know that the politicians in the end only serve the interests of the rich and powerful and that the electoral system in this country is a stacked deck. Real political power lies in our ability to control the system of production of goods and services, in building a movement for social change in our communities, and in fighting against all forms of oppression and domination, be it racial, sexual or whatever.
It is also not nearly enough to talk about things like raising the minimum wage, getting better health care, or equal opportunity. Not that there is anything wrong with those things, but why should workers settle for a little bit bigger slice of the economic pie when we should be fighting to control the whole bakery? In the meantime, the labor movement could be addressing issues like shortening the work week as an alternative to unemployment and downsizing, more control by workers of the workplace itself, and challenging many of those areas of decision-making that have been conceded to the bosses. To accomplish this, we need more militant and innovative tactics.
It's nice that some union leaders are now talking about things like civil disobedience and are willing to employ some more tactics of confrontation than before. But we will need to go much, much further, particularly if we are at all serious about bringing new sectors of unorganized workers into the labor movement. We need to consider new forms of on-the-job action, including occupations and sit-ins, and to begin ignoring the labor laws that were put in place to control workers in the first place. In the final analysis, the labor movement needs a new vision, one that doesn't accept the current inequality and class divisions in society as inevitable.
We need to look toward building a society without power, profit and privilege, in which working people in their workplaces and their communities make the decisions about how our work is done and what we want from it. We need a movement that fights for real gains within the context of this society while using its own organizations as the basis for a new one. We call this vision anarchist unionism or anarcho-syndicalism. What matters most however, is not what you call it, but the types of hopes and aspirations for working people we believe it embodies. We of the Workers Solidarity Alliance are men and women, like other working people, from different backgrounds, but united in a single vision. It is a vision we hope you will get to know more about.
Workers Solidarity Alliance
339 Lafayette Street — Room 202
New York, New York 10012