J.D. Tuccille Discusses Unions on HuffPost Live, Calls for Syndicalism


OK, I didn't call for syndicalism; I just suggested that labor unions consider abandoning their coal-era habits and follow a more syndicalist path to become relevant to modern workers. I made the suggestion during an appearance on HuffPost Live to discuss the sad current state and possible future of labor unions with Anya Kamenetz, senior writer at FastCompany, Jane McAlevey, author of Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell): My Decade Fighting for the Labor Movement and Lowell Peterson, Executive Director of the Writers Guild of America, East.

Strictly speaking, I was building on what Kamenetz had proposed in terms of possible new approaches for labor unions in her FastCompany article, "Unions Are Dying. What Comes Next?"and applying a proper label. In a dynamic, contract-based, freelancing world, labor unions that provide insurance, benefits, negotiating clout and even business opportunity with fellow union members are likely to be more appealing than the rules-bound, politicized, us-against-them old model. I don't think of syndicalist unions as replacements for capitalism, but as participants in the free market alongside and in competition with other models. More to the point, they have to appeal to workers, not rage against some supposed conspiracy that's eroding their membership.

This is more than I had time to get into during the HuffPost Live discussion, especially since I ducked out half-way through, but I once had an interesting exchange with an anarcho-syndicalist in which we agreed that, with the state out of the picture, there would be no reason to argue about economic arrangements, because they'd be matters of preference and voluntary arrangement. We're not likely to get the state out of the picture anytime soon, but that's no reason not to embrace anything that's voluntary — including labor unions that change with the times and win members by offeing them something of value.

While we're at it, let's not forget that I pissed off lots of readers by arguing against right-to-work laws,