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"Commentary on the Kahlenberg-Marvit Article: Larry Cohen"

January/February 2013 issue of Poverty & Race

President, Communication Workers of America

Using Dr. King as their vehicle, Kahlenberg and Marvit write on how Labor and Civil Rights are intertwined, and they note the ascension of civil rights and decline of labor rights since the 1960s.

On a tactical level, our partners in the Civil Rights Movement tell me that they would be opposed to opening the Civil Rights Act, but would be supportive of adding private right of action to their existing support for collective action in the workplace.

Any such initiative will be the target of the same sustained U.S. Chamber of Commerce campaign which has rolled back worker rights, our standard of living and the U.S. economy. In the U.S., our collective bargaining framework has been systematically destroyed by the Chamber’s 40-year campaign, resulting in flat real wages for 30 years.

This frame is correct for the United States, but not globally. In Brazil, South Korea and South Africa, we’ve seen the rise of strong labor movements linked to political movements from the ashes of military dictatorships or even worse, apartheid. Their success should embolden us to see the possibilities of a resurgent movement linking workers’ rights to other economic justice and democracy issues.

Let’s note that the U.S. House of Representatives, led by Speaker Pelosi, overwhelmingly passed the Employee Free Choice Act. In the U.S. Senate, we had a majority as well, but the expansion of filibuster rules prevented even debate not only on Employee Free Choice but nearly every major piece of legislation passed by the House in the last Congress. Richard and Moshe dismiss Free Choice too quickly and incorrectly.

Yes, in 2013 we must broaden our approach to workers’ rights in many ways, and speak to 100 million U.S. working women and men, currently with no effective bargaining or organizing rights. We should include encouragement for new forms of collective action as well as the private right of action.

Our democracy is corrupted. Money is not speech. Corporations are not people. Our path to change must rely on massive movement-building, uniting economic justice and democracy.

[Pls. if you have feedback you’d like to get to him, send it to me——and I’ll pass all such on to him—CH]

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