The Labor Movement

History of the Labor Movement

The Early Labor Movement

Early 20-Century Labor Movement 

Labor and the New Deal American 

Communists and the Labor Movement

Labor Struggles of the 1930s 

Labor and the Movement for Racial Justice

Labor in the 1970s

Discussion Questions

  • How did racial divisions in the US working class impact the development of the labor movement? 
    • How does the legacy of slavery affect Black working class communities and working-class labor struggles as a whole? How does this legacy differ by geographical context? 
    • What role have labor unions historically played in the struggle for racial justice?
    • How have socialists historically approached the issue of racial justice within the labor movement?
    • How do racial divisions continue to shape the labor movement today?
  • What has historically been the relationship between socialists and the U.S. labor movement? 
    • How is this relationship different today, and why?
  • Why did the US labor movement become less militant? 
    • What are the consequences of this declining militancy?
    • What can we do to reverse this trend? 
  • Why do socialists care about strikes?
    • What role have socialists historically played in organizing strikes? 
    • How do strikes build class-consciousness and socialist consciousness? In what ways do they serve as a “school of war” for the working class? 
    • How does the process of organizing a strike provide an opportunity to overcome divisions in the working class? 

The Labor Movenent Today

Charlie Post, “The Forgotten Militants”

Charlie Post, “The New Militant Minority”

Jane McAlevey, “Everything Old is New Again”

Jane Slaughter, “The Political Revolution Goes to Work”

Nick French, “Even in a Pandemic, Workers Can Fight Back”

Eric Blanc, “Strikes Still Get the Goods”

Jane McAlevey, “The Strike as the Ultimate Structure Test”

Nick French, “A Different Kind of Teachers’ Strike Wave”

Jeremy Brecher, “There’s Still Power in a Strike”

Eric Blanc, Red State Revolt

Discussion Questions: 

  • In her article Jane McAlevey writes, “The labor movement was once led by enough people who believed so deeply in the human capacity to act that it would have been unthinkable to speak on workers’ behalf without their participation….but today… union officials think that they can act alone, working out big problems for the poor benighted masses.” What does she mean by this, and why is it significant? 
    • What do organizers do? 
    • McAlevey makes a distinction between organizing and mobilizing. What does she mean by this distinction, and why does it matter?
  • Why does Eric Blanc believe that teachers and educators are a powerful force for change in labor and in society at large? 
    • What made these teachers strikes successful?
    • What can strikes achieve outside of the workplace—for example, why might a mass teachers strike in your state be significant to other public employees?
  • Why does McAlevey advocate for the whole worker organizing model? 
    • What tactics can we use to organize the working class both inside and outside the workplace?
  • Thinking back to labor history and the most recent article about strikes, why is it imperative that we not only win on our own individual campus, but we also organize and advocate for chapters outside of our own to win on their campuses?  

Campus Labor Organizing

Alejo Stark / Jasmine Ehrhardt / Amir Fleischman, “University of Michigan Graduate Workers are Going on Strike”

Nick Becker / John Ortiz Vargas / Sigal Felber, “Without Us, The School Would Fall Apart”

Nick Becker / Djibril Branche / Sigal Felber / Rebecca Kornman / Dani Martinez / Glen Goodwin / Bob Smith, “Kenyon College Students Are on Strike Today. They Want a Student-Worker Union.

Emma Borzekowski / Mitchell Manning, “The Student Worker Movement is Growing”

Zach Schwartz-Weinstein, “The University is a Battleground”

YDSA Labor Organizing Guide

Rank-and-File Strategy

Barry Eidlin, “What is Rank and File Strategy and Why Does it Matter?”

Socialism 2019 talk by Barry Eidlin: “What is Rank and File Strategy and Why Does it Matter? 

Kim Moody, “The Rank and File Strategy”

Barry Eidlin, “Why Unions are Good–But Not Good Enough”

Eric Blanc, “We Need to Reconnect Socialists to the U.S. Labor Movement”

Barry Eidlin, “DSA, the Rank-and-File Strategy, and Organizing the Unorganized”

Discussion Questions:

  • Does every worker in every workplace need to be a socialist in order to fight for working class politics? Why or why not? 
    • Eidlin notes that socialist followers of the rank-and-file strategy explicitly do not take their jobs with the intent of being, “the loudest, most radical people on the job.” Why? 
    • What should the “militant minority” do? 
    • How does the rank-and-file strategy grow the socialist movement if socialists don’t spend the whole time propagandizing? 
  • Why do Eidlin and the West Virginia Teachers caution against socialists running for union office or taking a job as a union staffer?
    • What can rank-and-file workers do that union staffers or officers cannot? 
    • Say the circumstances in your life make it impossible for you to get a rank-and-file job. How can you support the rank-and-file strategy? 
    • What should the role be of a staffer who wants to follow the rank-and-file strategy? 
    • How should followers of the rank-and-file strategy relate to establishment politicians and labor leaders? 
  • Why do the West Virginia Teachers describe teaching as a “strategic industry”? 
    • Proponents of the rank-and-file strategy often hold up healthcare and logistics as similarly strategic industries. Are there other strategic industries? How can we assess whether or not an industry is strategic? 
    • The West Virginia Teachers argue that, while some workers are in more oppressive conditions than others, we should nonetheless base our strategy on the industries that have leverage to win class-wide demands. Do you agree or disagree with this argument? Why or why not?