Organizing: What's Needed

November 2002 - April 2003

Since 1996 the leadership of the AFL-CIO, and of a few important unions, have put as many of labor’s eggs as they could in the basket of organizing the unorganized. John Sweeney says labor needs to organize a million workers a year just to tread water, and that growth is our top priority.

But the numbers are not encouraging. Most unions have not seriously moved resources into organizing. In the last decade, the most new members organized per year was around 107,000, in both 1998 and 1999 (through NLRB elections). In 2001, only 68,678 new members were organized, in 2,361 elections. That compares to 2,716 elections and 66,753 new members in 1995.

What’s more, not all those new members end up with contracts —only slightly more than two-thirds win contracts within two years of voting for a union.

In a recent poll, half of non-union workers said they would jump at the chance to join a union—a higher percentage than in a long time. Why isn’t labor signing more of these folks up? Biased laws, determined anti-union employers, and fear of plant closings are part of the answer, but what are the factors that labor can more easily control?

As a contribution to the discussion and debate that’s needed at all levels of the labor movement, from November 2002 to April 2003 Labor Notes published a series of articles and discussion pieces on different facets of organizing. They are collected here.

Organizing: What's Needed

Labor Notes staff: Introduction to roundtable discussion

November 2002

Jeff Lacher: Members as Organizers Build Stronger Unions

Sam Smucker: The AFL-CIO's Organizing Institute

December 2002

Stephen Lerner: Three Steps To Reorganizing And Rebuilding The Labor Movement

Labor Notes: Summary of Lerner piece

Daisy Rooks: New Organizer Recruits Recognize Flaws in Staff-Centered Organizing Model

January 2003

David Cohen: Labor Needs a New Approach to Organizing...But Members Must Be a Part of It



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Kate Bronfenbrenner: Union Power Means More Than Market Share

Suzanne Wall: From Amalgamated to Focused

Ken Paff: Failure to Organize in Core Jurisdictions Costs Teamsters Bargaining Power

Sid Shniad: Restructuring Won't Happen Top-Down

February 2003

Steve Early: AFL-CIO's Organizing Summit Looks at "Best Practices" - But Leaves Much Unexamined

Peter Olney: To Organize to Scale, We Need Labor Law Reform

Kim Moody: Does Size Matter? Strategy and Quality of Leadership Are More Important

Lenny Gentle: South Africa's Experience of "One Industry, One Union"

March 2003

Allen Gottheil: The Other Side of Organizing -- Winning the First Contract

Ed Rothstein: A New Vision for Organizing

April 2003

Erin Bowie: The CWA's Experience, A Tale of Two Card-Check Agreements


Wendy Thompson: Strategy and Resource Shift Needed: Auto Workers Union Need Organizing Campaign Based on an Army of Member-Organizers

Steve Early: A Look at Three "Strategic Campaigns"

Chris Townsend: Labor Law Reform Could Turn Tide on Organizing