One of my first organizing jobs was at Chicago ACORN. We shared office space with what was then SEIU Local 880 (now HCII), the homecare workers union in Illinois. After long days on the doors and phones, I would unwind with the 880 organizers. They were not only scaling up private and public sector homecare organizing but also planting the seeds of organizing among childcare workers on a similar model.

This was the mid-1990s, a time of incredible energy and optimism in the labor movement after decades of decline. There was new, organizing-centered leadership at SEIU. The living-wage movement was beginning to blossom. And, with the accession of John Sweeney to the leadership of the AFL-CIO, many unions were renewing their commitment to organizing and investing in drives with the potential to expand dwindling membership, recruit fresh leaders, and rebuild the power of organized labor.

As we all know too well, the Right only accelerated its attacks on labor in the decades to come; the new, large-scale organizing drives failed to fend off the attacks and resuscitate the movement; and unions continued to lose members and power. Today, only about one in ten American workers belongs to a union. Not coincidentally, as the power of the labor movement has declined, the need for an organized movement of working people has become only clearer: big corporations continue to gain frightening amounts of wealth, power, and control while poor and working-class people face layoffs, evictions, and death

But the labor movement is hardly done for. Over the past several years, we’ve seen a wave of strikes and other workplace actions that demonstrate the power of organized labor; at the same time, organizers and rank-and-file leaders have begun innovating new models to bring renewed energy, militancy, and vision to the movement. Our guest editor Andrea Dehlendorf incisively argues in the introduction to this issue that now is the time for the labor movement to look forward rather than backward, to move beyond familiar methods of organizing and imagine new strategies to beat back assaults from the Right and challenge the outsized power of corporate America today.

Inside the issue:

We hope this issue is a jumping off point for more discussion, collaboration, and debate about the strategic questions labor needs to tackle to build a movement that can win a more caring and just future. 


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