By demanding more instead of accepting less, and aligning campaigns against the billionaires at the top, labor can inspire and organize a movement dedicated to redistributing wealth and power.
Austerity, growing inequality, and the economic and political domination of billionaires, bankers, hedge funds, and giant corporations make the current moment ripe for birthing a movement that can radically transform the country and the world. This is a time of great peril, but also of extraordinary opportunity and—yes—reasons for hope.
The last four decades have been characterized by unrelenting attacks on the working class, the weakening of unions and the financialization of capitalism. The fiscal crisis of 2007-2008, the burgeoning wealth gap, and the flood of money from corporations and the rich drowning our democracy have exposed the nation’s political, moral, and economic decay, creating conditions that beg for an alternative to a system that increasingly only works for the super-rich.
In this environment, anything that unions can do alone, with dwindling power, will be insufficient. The challenge for labor, at a moment of historic weakness, is to figure out how unions can support and be involved in movements and campaigns that expand, rather than narrow, the scope and scale of what we are organizing and bargaining for. It may seem counterintuitive, but it is thinking bigger and broadening our vision, goals, and demands—even at a moment of weakness—that offers a path to resurgent unions and a more equal and just country and world.
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Saqib Bhatti is the director of the ReFund America Project and a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and Stephen Lerner is a fellow at Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor. He is also the architect of Justice For Janitors campaign.