Gordon Lafer Weighs in on Wisconsin, again

At the Nation, Gordon Lafer responds to some of the criticisms of his original article. Here are some highlights:

My disagreement with Doug Henwood has nothing to do with whether unions should be “sucking up to Democrats” or pursuing “business as usual.” I believe that Doug and I see the same crisis; we disagree about what caused it, and what is to be done.

Public confidence in unions has declined, which Henwood insists is because the public correctly perceives that unions are selfish and fail to promote the common good. Yet the most important facts at the heart of Henwood’s argument—42 percent of the country would like to see unions have less influence, and only 30 percent want more influence – are a product of the last five years. Another part of the same poll, which Henwood chose not to discuss, shows that as recently as 2006, the proportions were reversed, with 38 percent of Americans wishing unions had greater influence, and only 30 percent preferring less. So something happened in the last five years to turn public opinion against unions. What’s the more likely explanation—that unions actually became more self-serving in the last five years, and the public correctly perceived this? Or that a massive campaign of corporate advertising and right-wing newscasters encouraged downwardly-mobile Americans to vent their anger on unions?

For that matter, these same polls show that desire to limit union influence is overwhelmingly Republican; 69 percent of them want to see union influence curbed, compared with only 17 percent of Democrats. So for Henwood’s theory to be true, it would have to be the case that Republicans are much better than Democrats at perceiving the truth about unions, and that many Republicans would turn pro-labor if only they saw unions advocating for Canadian-style healthcare. Uh, right.

The point of highlighting these and more recent campaigns is not to be a cheerleader for union accomplishments, but the opposite: to be clear-eyed about the fact that if all it took to win was unions’ willingness to think outside the box, we’d have been celebrating a long time ago.

Why focus on the labor movement? After all, 93 percent of the private sector is unorganized. If the primary barrier to progress is bureaucratic union leaders, the field is – unfortunately – wide open to go around them. Why not create the people’s movement in the 93 percent of the economy, instead of harping on the 7 percent?

Read the rest here.

In related news, it looks like Bill Moyers is going to be having a terrific discussion with Steven Lerner and Bill Fletcher.

With a sharp decline in union membership, a legion of new enemies, and a series of legal and legislative setbacks, can American labor rebound and once again act strongly in the interest of ordinary workers? On this week’s Moyers & Company, Bill talks to two people who can best answer the question: Stephen Lerner and Bill Fletcher, Jr. The architect of the SEIU’s Justice for Janitors movement, Lerner directed SEIU’s private equity project, which worked to expose a Wall Street feeding frenzy that left the working class in a state of catastrophe. Fletcher took his Harvard degree to the Massachusetts shipyards, and worked as a welder before becoming a labor activist. He served as Assistant to the President of the AFL-CIO, and is author of the upcoming book “They’re Bankrupting Us!”: And 20 Other Myths about Unions.


  1. michael yates July 4, 2012 at 1:24 am | #

    You post pieces in this debate with which you agree, but why not post others as well? Mike Elk has some interesting things to say, as do Bill Fletcher and Jane Mcalevey, on that Nation site. I wrote a piece yesterday on Counterpunch. As Mao said, “let a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend.”

    BTW, I think Gordon’s piece is kind of a slash and burn job. But the give and take is interesting and informative too.

    • Streetheat July 4, 2012 at 11:47 am | #

      Maybe thats because everything Henwood, Elk, Fletcher and you are saying is nothing but the same old sectarian, ultral left tripe ya’ll have been putting out for decades?

      • michael yates July 4, 2012 at 1:12 pm | #

        Streetheat, well, we could use some evidence for your assertions. No one has ever called me a sectarian before, so I commend you for being the first.

    • Corey Robin July 4, 2012 at 10:54 pm | #

      Michael, I see that on your blog you’ve posted exactly one piece out of this entire discussion: your own. I at least have posted pieces by other people (not to mention a 10,000 word forum on this topic featuring many different voices, including Doug’s and others who disagree with me). How anyone can be that shameless or clueless about himself is beyond me.

      • michael yates July 4, 2012 at 11:11 pm | #

        I write all my blog posts. You do not. As to shamelessness and cluenessness, look in the mirror. Or maybe ask your adjuncts. You might note that I linked to a range of things in that post.

  2. Doug Henwood July 4, 2012 at 1:58 pm | #

    Wow, you really had to repost this thing, eh? I’ve got a couple of deadlines today. I’m going to respond to this tomorrow.

    Funny, on the tag cloud to the right, my name is in type almost as large as Edmund Burke’s! I guess that proves something.

  3. Bill July 9, 2012 at 12:07 pm | #

    The authoritarian implications of Hayek’s philosophy is nothing new. Alain de Benoist of the French New Right pointed them out in 1998:

    “Hayek’s efforts differ from classical liberalism because of his attempt to re-ground the doctrine at the highest possible level without recourse to the fiction of the social contract and by attempting to avoid the critiques usually made of rationalism, utilitarianism, the postulate of a general equilibrium or of pure and perfect competition founded on the transparency of information. In order to do this, Hayek is forced to raise the stakes and to turn the market into a global concept necessary because of its totalizing character. The result is a new utopia, predicated on as many paralogisms and contradictions. Actually, as Caille put it, were it not for “the welfare state’s failure to achieve social peace, the market order would have been swept away a long time ago.” A society based on Hayek’s principles would explode in a short time. Furthermore, its institution can only be the product of a pure “constructivism” and would undoubtedly require a dictatorial state. As Albert O. Hirschman writes, “this allegedly idyllic privatized citizenship, which only pays attention to its economic interests and indirectly serves the public interest without ever playing a direct role — all of this can only be achieved within nightmarish political conditions.”

    Read the whole article from Telos here:


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