KI Co-Hosts Launch of American Workers in an Age of Austerity

Posted in Events

On Wednesday, January 25, 2012, the Kalmanovitz Initiative co-sponsored a launch event for the winter edition of Dissent magazine’s 2012 winter issue: “American Workers in an Age of Austerity.” The launch, which was held at the headquarters of the AFL-CIO in Washington, DC, was moderated by Kimberly Freeman Brown, the Executive Director of American Rights at Work.  Joe McCartin, Director of the Kalamnovitz Initiative, offered an introduction. Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post and Michael Kazin, professor of history at Georgetown University, served as panelists.

Kazin spoke of the critical moment in which organized labor finds itself and noted that a looming question for labor is “how a larger movement can be built to include more [workers] in improving their own lives.” In discussing the articles that make up Dissent‘s winter issue, Kazin noted that a common theme is that their authors are aware of the context in which workers labor.

Meyerson told the audience that as a nation we are questioning whether the move to a post-industrial society has been good for society collectively and for individual Americans. He noted the populist tone of President Obama’s State of the Union Address the previous evening, which provided an opening for the public to consider what will be the model for American economic prosperity.

Meyerson also referred to the stated positions of Republican primary candidates Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney regarding tax policy for manufacturers as an acknowledgment by the right that we need a manufacturing renaissance. Meyerson explained that while bringing back more manufacturing jobs to the US is important, it will not be sufficient to spur an economic recovery. For that to happen, there needs to be more vocational education and union organizing.

In response to a question from the audience, McCartin discussed a deep change in America’s work culture. In the past, there was a closer relationship between employers and their workers, which helped foster organizing. McCartin noted that several conditions have preceded past leaps in gains for organizing and workers’ rights. Among them were the mutually reinforcing work culture and solidarity; innovation within the labor movement with respect to new kinds of work; an alignment with other progressives; and state policies that support labor organization. McCartin pointed to the “problem of developing policies that foster worker organization now is not necessarily a problem that can be handled domestically only.”