To the Editors:
The rebirth of a strong and progressive labor movement is essential to the health of American democracy and the economic security of the American people. We therefore welcome the new leadership of the AFL-CIO elected at their historic convention in October and applaud their decision to dramatically increase the resources the union federation devotes to the organization of millions of new workers. We believe the revitalization of the American labor movement can fashion a new politics of social solidarity and economic justice, and reverse the country’s descent into the kind of mean-spirited selfishness that so discolors the contemporary political scene. An American labor movement now rededicated to the principles which once inspired millions promises to act boldly in the interests not only of its own membership, but of the vast majority of the American people. It is the most heartening development in our nation’s political life since the heyday of the civil rights movement a third of a century ago.
For most people living standards have stagnated or declined for more than two decades. Recent increases in corporate profitability and productivity have failed to reduce economic insecurity or the growing disparities of wealth and income that have “Brazilianized” so much of the social structure. Working people of every description—white collar and blue, high tech and low, immigrant and American-born, men and women, white, black, and brown, have been down-sized and disenfranchised by a corporate elite that has lost all sense of social responsibility, except as an exercise in public relations. The deplorable and depressing state of race relations in America is only the ugliest symptom of the resentment, paranoia, and meanness that breed naturally in an environment of pervasive economic insecurity.
In this dismal context, the wave of hope and energy that has begun to surge through the AFL-CIO offers us a way out of our stalemate and defeatism. The commitment demonstrated by newly elected president John J. Sweeney and his energetic associates promises to once again make the house of labor a social movement around which we can rally. It is indeed time to “block the bridges” against all those who seek to stand in the way of a humane and democratic society. As intellectuals, educators, and professionals, we want to play our part in helping realize the promise of October. We extend our support and cooperation to this new leadership and pledge our solidarity with those in the AFL-CIO dedicated to the cause of union democracy and the remobilization of a dynamic new labor movement.
Houghton Mifflin Company
Professor of History
University of Virginia
Stanley Aronowitz, Derrick Bell,
Robert Bellah, Marshall Berman, Paul Berman, Norman Birnbaum, Barry Bluestone, Julian Bond, Natalie Zemon Davis, Barbara Ehrenreich, Eric Foner, Betty Friedan, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Herbert Gans, Todd Gitlin, Mary Gordon, Bennett Harrison, Robert Heilbroner, Russell Jacoby, Michael Kazin, Alfred Kazin, Christopher Jencks, Jonathan Kozol, J. Anthony Lukas, David Montgomery, Katha Pollitt, Michael Rogin, Richard Rorty, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Theda Skocpol, Michael Walzer, and Cornel West (Partial listing)
February 1, 1996