Reutherism Redux: What Happens When Poor Workers' Unions Wear The Color Purple

Steve Early, Labor Notes, September 2004

"Don't they realize if they really push this organizing, the labor movement is going to wind up being a movement of strawberry pickers and chicken pluckers?" - Anonymous 1997 AFL-CIO Convention delegate from the American Federation of Teachers, quoted in The New York Times.

Despite stepped-up union recruitment, farm workers and poultry processors still haven't taken over the AFL-CIO. But the old guard's fear of being swamped by low-wage workers - expressed by this AFT delegate seven years ago - has materialized in other ways (even while organizing among "strawberry pickers and chicken pluckers" generally flopped). Tens of thousands of janitors, nursing home workers, home health care aides, and hotel, laundry and food service employees are now in the forefront of union struggles around the country. Under the post-1995 leadership of John Sweeney, the AFL-CIO has demanded a "living wage" for the millions of African-Americans, women, and recent immigrants who work in such jobs. Progressive allies of labor, including minority community activists, have widely applauded this new focus on the "most oppressed." Many believe it represents a renewed labor commitment to social justice, empowerment of the poor, and greater diversity. ...
Reutherism Redux