21st Century Labor Movement?

I’d never have believed this would be a “conservative” position a decade ago. Yet this makes sense to me in terms of where the boundaries are looking to be reforming:

Conservatives should spend more time thinking about what it would mean to build effective 21st-century labor unions or guilds. Republican leaders often defect because woke concerns function as a way to signal class status. Conservatives need to find ways to nurture a new leadership class that isn’t crippled by status anxiety. The working class is less tied to woke pieties than the managerial class, and finding ways to increase their political agency would defang woke nonsense. 

Tech monopolies can’t truly be fought without fighting their anti-American labor practices. Republicans spent a year fundraising off the threat of tech censorship, and then as soon as the election was over they rewarded big tech with cheap labor. A new labor movement could help curb immigration, reform the H1-B1 program, and lessen offshoring, while encouraging strategic manufacturing in America. New labor movements must also divorce the white-collar workforce from the university wherever possible. Most colleges are a total joke, and there are plenty of well-paying white-collar jobs with fancy titles that could be done by a 19-year-old. It’s time to end the charade. These are already popular issues among the populist Right, but it’s important to stress how they help cultural fights. 

From the point of view of political strategy, this is difficult to argue with. Without wealthy donors, a political movement has to rely much much more on grassroots organization, and labor unions were good at that.

But a 21st century labor movement will look different than the 19th and 20th century labor movement. How it will look different is an interesting question.

15 thoughts on “21st Century Labor Movement?”

  1. For another perspective on much of what is outlined in that article regarding corporate “wokeness”, check out Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas. As I recall, that author basically says that all corporate elites stop just short of undermining their own self-interests. What did that Claremont Institute guy say, “underneath it all, business remains the cold world of profit-seeking rationalism…”?

    In my opinion, that is why the idea of “conservative” labor unions is an absurdity. Divide-and-conquer populism will have its limits, the several-year successes of the Trump Phenomena notwithstanding, and eventually workers will figure out they are getting diddled every payday, over issues that aren’t really existential in their lives. Even “trickle down” proved to have a sell-by date.

    Clarey writes, “The people who work at these companies do, in fact, hate you.” Who is that you he pretends to be addressing? Here’s a safe bet: It’s not the elitists, corporatists, and mega-rich who fund the Claremont Institute, and him. Or do you believe there is a special species of corporatists who pitch a “conservative” brand of wokeness, that is from beginning-to-end altruistic and concerned with the general welfare?

    1. The [Claremont] institute was an early defender of Donald Trump. . .The institute caused controversy by granting a fellowship in 2019 to the Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec. . .

      Claremont’s New Class of Fellows Would Make Its Founders Weep

      Just sayin’.

      No entity, of any faction, is the same thing you gained first-impressions from back in the pre-Trump era. I wouldn’t take Claremont ramblings too seriously in terms of defining what “conservatism” means.

    2. I think the Claremont institute’s motivations are probably religious rather than corporatist, so they might actually want a grassroots populist movement if it will benefit those views. A lot of their people have cross-associations with religious institutions… which is pretty much true of every right organization… but those motivations are different than, say, the Cato Institute.

      1. Claremont was funded by Howard Ahmanson Jr., who certainly appears to have religious motivations, but also is no lightweight in the financial department. I’ll refer again to Anand Giridharadas’s observation that the philanthropic always stop short of working against their own self-interest.

    3. Andy, you present much here that cannot be argued with. I think there is a bit of a conflict, especially for LIBERTARIAN minded Republicans, in that unions present a wall of collectivist (as opposed to individualist) concerns. I see this argument more as a need to keep up with the culture, which we know is upstream of politics. Just like outreach to new voters that the GOP would not have pursued in general a decade ago. I applaud both of these strategies.

      It’s sort of the adapt or be left behind approach that any political party that is interested in building coalitions will embrace. My personal view is that I do think the GOP should do a better job of outreach to blue collar unions especially. I have also said that they should do a better job of outreach to professional unions especially in union dominant states like PA. It will be interesting to see what that looks like post-Covid when teachers unions will be on the wrong side of history for keeping schools closed. I still think it’s the “new fusionism” that allows the GOP to survive post-Trump.

      1. “unions present a wall of collectivist (as opposed to individualist) concerns.”

        But, what issue is that not true of? For example, “a livable wage” or “decent benefits” are collectivist interests, in the same way that “our” gun rights are. Ultimately every worker is interested in his own pay envelope on payday, but on his own has little clout, unless he/she is one of those exceptional people who can make themselves indispensable on merit, and some jobs don’t allow much for that. (Was there ever an indispensable hod-carrier? Warehouseman? etc.) Similarly our concerns about gun rights involve a bigger, more powerful entity (“The State”) imposing its will on us “collectively” via “law”, which is not much different from “corporate policy.” So, we have a contest of us trying to impose collectively what we believe to be our own self-interest, on people who believe it collectively is not their self-interest, and both factions form organizations to do it. But, wages and benefits or “individual rights”, both are ultimately collective interests.

        (Ultimately other than factional alignments, there is no reason for unions to have positions on guns, any more than the NRA should have a position on wages and benefits.)

        Old Story, for Full Disclosure and a paradox in my life: At one point in my life I took on the role of “union organizer” very briefly, when the corporation I worked for started jerking us white-collar workers around. (I didn’t have to follow through, as management caved literally overnight, at the threat.) Yet just a few years later as a spokesman for the Libertarian Party, I badmouthed unions so badly in a radio interview that other Libertarians chastised me for it. All I can figure is I wasn’t a rapid learner, just a True Believer.

  2. It’s been obvious to me for a long time that a pro-union movement, far from being a model of global progressive collectivism, are the only realistic hope for a return to “Made in America” industrial strength. It’s all very well to talk about individuals boycotting foreign made goods, but if those are the only options, it’s hollow. Hang together, or hang separately.

  3. This is a tangential thought, but, has there ever existed a gun rights organization that used “union” in its name? As in “[name a state] Gun Owners Union”?

    If not, why not?

    It wasn’t “gun rights”, but the only organization “on the right” that I can think of, that had “union” in its name, was the National Taxpayers Union, but that was more of a scam fundraising outfit than anything else.

    When I received entry-level “activist” training while I was volunteering with GOA, the training was provided by the National Right to Work Committee, but embraced everybody from gun rights activists to pro-life, anti-gay, home schooling, and of course anti-union activists. Given that their front issue was anti-labor, I couldn’t have imagined that milieu warming up to anything that had “union” in its name.

  4. Worth considering. The original populist movement from late 19th/ early 20th century had both a left and right component. The Great Populist, William Jennings Bryan was both. Imagine in today’s world, a man who could give the Cross of Gold speech and then serve as a special prosecutor at the Scopes trial. Of course, if you substitute pro-life for Scopes, you have Trump.

  5. “New labor movements must also divorce the white-collar workforce from the university wherever possible. Most colleges are a total joke, and there are plenty of well-paying white-collar jobs with fancy titles that could be done by a 19-year-old.”

    More Full Disclosure. I’m a first-in-the-family-to-finish-college guy (I beat my cousin by only a few days, though): Why are these anti-education memes so popular on the right? It couldn’t be to create a vast over-supply of marginally educated, disposable and thus exploitable workers, could it? People who have never “learned how to learn”, and so are chained to rote-skill jobs until they are no longer needed, and can be abandoned?

    I have difficulty weighing some things. I did attend (with financial aid) and graduate from one of those hated Ivy League Universities, but I was an engineer, so didn’t have a chance to see much of that “indoctrination” everyone talks about. I typically had to take one “humanities” elective per semester, without heavy-handed indoctrination. But it was no “joke”, and along the way I was treated for “nervous exhaustion.”

    Of course that was 50 years ago.

    Challenged to do it, I could tell selected stories to prove how terribly “liberal” the university was. But I could also tell stories like, a merely-liberal professor being pursued and baited in an anti-communist witch-hunt — a couple decades after Joe McCarthy became worm food. (Maybe that department head hadn’t heard?) I knew lauded engineering professors who in fact were simpleton-savants, and humanities professors who were fonts of analytical insights. It would be impossible to generalize, based on my experience, other than to generalize that I worked my ass off, because I had to.

    I finished my career working for myself, but from what friends who stayed in industry have told me, those “well-paying white-collar jobs with fancy titles that could be done by a 19-year-old” are more a product of evolving corporate-America delusions than anything else, in that it is now assumed that anyone imbued with a title is equivalent to anyone else with the same title, and experience and actual education count for nothing, when their alternative comes cheaper. (I had for clients corporations that routinely placed people in jobs where they were unqualified and in way over their heads — because they were cheaper.)

    The fact is, that proverbial 19-year-old can’t do the job, isn’t doing the job, and that’s part of the reason our country has been in a downhill spiral of incompetence that has really only become apparent for the past five years or so. Concentrated points of high tech swimming is seas of mediocrity. Everything went to shit because of a Children’s Crusade of incurious people who didn’t care to read and didn’t believe in science of any kind.

  6. Unions are not per se bad when they are voluntary and focused. Modern labor unions are massive and corrupt.

    I think it makes sense to go after the union member vote. The easiest way is to create the environment for jobs to exist. Massive numbers of current and former union members have seen their jobs and therefor livelihoods exported to China and menial jobs replaced by Mexicans. Trump was popular with union types as he starched that wound for a few years.

    Union leadership, however, is full of corrupt marxists. The recent interview with Troyka, the AFL CIO pres. was delicious.

    1. “Union leadership, however, is full of corrupt marxists. The recent interview with Troyka, the AFL CIO pres. was delicious.”

      You mean “Trumka”, don’t you?

      I’m a little confused, because the only interview I could find was one Trumka did with Axios, and in that one he sounded more like a Republican.

      If I have it all wrong, please provide a link to the right interview.

      1. I believe that is the interview.

        His speeches before the the election definitely had a different tone. My cousin is in the union and he says that people are pissed at the leadership and its fidelity to the D party regardless.

  7. “Modern labor unions are massive and corrupt.”

    You may recall my “power corrupts” theory from a couple days ago, that all organizations who seek/achieve some power will shortly become corrupted; and that I suggested maybe a “sunset” be scheduled for any power-seeking or political organizations at an outside of maybe 50 years.

    Most unions have been around way too long not to be corrupt.

    The NRA may have been founded in 1871, but it really didn’t become power-seeking until the mid-1970s, and it was then that it became corrupted.

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