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Worker Institute Blog

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The Worker Institute brings together researchers, educators and students with practitioners in labor, business and policymaking to address issues related to confronting systemic inequality and building a fair economy, robust democracy and just society. We will share opinion, analysis, research, data, insights and training from our faculty and staff.

Lance Compa Initiates Dialogue On Future Of Labor Movement

This month, ILR Senior Lecturer Lance Compa initiated a dialogue on the future of labor in the journal New Labor Forum with his article Careful What You Wish For: A Critical Appraisal of Proposals to Rebuild the Labor Movement.

The piece examines new strategies to revitalize or rebuild the labor movement, including: “making ‘Alt-labor’ a new launching pad; replacing face-to-face union building with high-volume digital organizing; applying the Civil Rights Act to union activity; adopting ‘members-only’ bargaining alongside majority rule and exclusive representation; letting unions make non-members pay for handling their grievances; and even conceding a national ‘right-to-work’ law so unions will try harder to win workers’ support.”

Compa calls these initiatives “valuable projects” but cautions against substituting them for the traditional labor movement. He points to recent organizing gains by adjunct professors, airline pilots, school bus drivers, and digital media employees, and concludes, “American workers still need conventional unions. Let us renew and rebuild them, not disdain them.” 

Veteran labor activist and scholar Bill Fletcher, Jr., labor/community organizer Stephen Lerner, labor activist and social entrepreneur Amy B. Dean, labor journalist Chris Maisano, and labor law scholar Michael M. Oswalt have reviewed and written critiques of the piece, which can also be read on the New Labor Forum website

In response to those critiques, Compa has published another piece titled For Rooted Unions: Lance Compa’s Reply to New Labor Forum Debate Respondents.

New Labor Forum is a national labor journal from the Murphy Institute and the City University of New York. Published three times a year, New Labor Forum provides a place for labor and its allies to test and debate new ideas.

Lance Compa is a Senior Lecturer at the ILR School in Ithaca, where he teaches U.S. labor law and international labor rights. 

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