Rebuilding the Labor Movement in the 21st Century

… an Interview with Scott Marshall

Publioshed on political affairs pa, by staff, Nov. 2, 2009.

PA: Can you give us your general impressions of the AFL-CIO convention held in Pittsburgh in September.

SCOTT MARSHALL: I think the Convention really continued a trend that has been going on ever since the big change when John Sweeney was elected in the mid-90s, but it has now changed more in the direction of confronting the economic crisis and taking a real class position on what’s wrong with the economics of this country. It was a pretty amazing discussion at many levels, and there was really a deeper understanding of how finance capital works globally and in this country. It came through in the speeches and it came through in the discussions.

It was an amazing continuation of where the AFL-CIO and the labor movement have been going in general. I think there was a fantastic amount of attention paid to questions of diversity, questions of opening up the ranks, and in particular real concern about how to bring young workers into the labor movement.  

There were panels and there were discussions about attracting young workers, and they are taking some concrete steps to go out and talk to young workers and hear what young workers have to say about how they see the labor movement and what it is doing. So that was really good. Also, as I am sure a lot of your listeners already know, for the first time two of the top three elected officers are women. I think that is an indication of where they are headed on questions of diversity and making the leadership of the labor movement look more like the working class in this country.

To me, one of the most exciting things that happened at the convention was the showing of Michael Moore’s new movie, “Capitalism: A Love Story.” It started with a rally for single-payer healthcare at a hotel near the convention, and then close to 1,500 people marched through the streets of Pittsburgh to the movie theater to watch the movie. The response of the people who saw the movie was tremendous. Michael Moore himself said that he has never gotten that kind of response to any of his movies. He got a 10-15 minute standing ovation at the end of it.

What is really remarkable about that is who these people are. These were not left activists in the labor movement – they were the elected delegates to the AFL-CIO Convention and the top leadership of many of the unions in the country, who were responding that way to a movie that basically is a blistering critique of capitalism and what has gone wrong in this financial crisis. I think that kind of tells you what kind of meeting the convention was … (full interview text).

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