Labor at a Crossroads

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The labor movement is at a crossroads, Weingarten said, because of globalization, technological changes, diminished union density, and aggressive, well-funded legislative and judicial challenges by anti-union forces who understand the potential power of American labor.
 
"We can no longer operate as if we're in a factory," said Weingarten. "The knowledge era has arrived. As circumstances change, our nation changes, the world changes and we too must change. And make no mistake: This is on us. It's our responsibility," she said.
 
Click here to watch Weingarten’s speech.
 
Secretary Perez reminded the audience that the growth of the middle class was linked to a strong labor movement. "President Obama understands that the labor movement and prosperity go hand in hand," he said.
 
Click here to watch Secretary Perez' speech.
 
The event was co-sponsored by the Sidney Hillman Foundation and The American Prospect, which has published several related opinion pieces by conference participants, as well as other labor leaders and advocates.
 
Click here to learn more about the Sidney Hillman Foundation.
 
Click here to access The American Prospect’s "Labor at a Crossroads" series.
 
In her speech, Weingarten highlighted four areas of work within our movement that AFT has rethought in significant ways:
  • engagement with community;
  • focus on the quality of the public services its members provide;
  • "internal" organizing and member mobilization; and
  • "external" organizing of the unorganized.
"We know that the enduring values of the American labor movement provide a strong foundation for a renewed American unionism that will give collective voice to working people in a 21st-century global knowledge economy," Weingarten concluded.
 
Also speaking at the conference were AFT Executive Vice President Mary Cathryn Ricker and AFT Chief-of-Staff Jessica Smith. Ricker participated in a panel discussion on "Rethinking Collective Bargaining and Union Representation" and Smith's panel focused on new forms of labor organizing and organization.
 
Click here to watch the session that included Ricker.
 
Click here to watch the session that included Smith.
 
Weingarten authored an op-ed with her reflections on the conference published Sunday at The Huffington Post. Among her take-aways from the event was the challenge labor faces to "build new movements by building a new vision for collective action -- and sustaining it."
 
Click here for Weingarten's op-ed.
 
The Albert Shanker Institute is a non-profit think-tank established in 1998 to honor the life and legacy of the late AFT national union president. The institute's mission is to address the inter-related issues of work, education, and democracy, and frequently hosts events like "The American Labor Movement at a Crossroads" conference.
 
Click here to learn more about The Albert Shanker Institute.