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Liz Shuler and the Future of Organized Labor

Liz Shuler was elected the AFL-CIO’s first female president in August after longtime leader Richard Trumka unexpectedly passed away. Shuler said, “Rich was a relentless champion of workers’ rights, and even as we mourn his passing today, we will stand on his shoulders to continue the fight for workers, and for the fair and just society he believed in so passionately. We will honor his legacy with action.”

Pandemic Economy

Shuler will be leading the AFL-CIO’s 12.5 million members in tumultuous times. The pandemic economy has presented a unique opportunity for America’s labor movement. What some call a labor shortage is actually working people refusing to accept the employment status quo and raising their personal standards as to what jobs, benefits, and conditions they will accept. “It really has a ripple effect across an entire labor market, that rising tide lifting all boats.” With the power of organized labor, Shuler says,

“We have the power to speak out for good wages, great benefits, fair scheduling, and equal pay for equal work. We can win paid sick leave, paid family leave, and quality child care.”

Shuler will depend on young people and women to be leaders in the organized labor movement.

Younger Generations and the Organized Labor Movement

“… young people today have seen what the economy has done to their parents, where their parents have lost their pensions and have had to go back to work after they’ve retired.” “They see this economy not working for them. So they innately in their generation, I would say, if I can stereotype, see the benefit of collaboration and coming together for power. And so that translates very easily to the union movement. It will look different though, right? It won’t be the traditional model that we’ve seen where you work for one employer for 30 years and the union office is right there next to the plant. It’s going to be more distributed, it’s going to be perhaps virtual; we’re going to use new technological tools to harness that power.” Young people are “… tailor made to be union leaders… We cannot wait to get young people into our leadership. We can’t wait until they’ve been in our movement 10, 15, 20 years. We need to capture their leadership now.”

Liz Shuler President of AFL-CIO

Women in the Organized Labor movement

“The labor movement is the largest working women’s organization in the country. A lot of people don’t think of us in that way, but we represent six-and-a-half million women,” Shuler said. “But even as we celebrate the advancement of women in work, the harsh reality is too many of us struggle when we shouldn’t have to. Just getting by often takes an act of heroism. There is a catchy phrase going around, asking women to “lean in.” But most of us are already leaning in so hard we are practically falling over.” Shuler recognizes that there is powerful opposition to women’s equality and empowerment. “Donald Trump has called prominent women dogs and pigs. He said there would be equal pay when women start doing a better job. He remarked that putting a wife to work is a very dangerous thing.”

The pandemic has brought about much-needed changes in attitudes towards work. Her commitment to involving young people and women in organized labor makes Liz Shuler the right person in the right position to affect systematic change.

Sources

https://www.businessinsider.com/liz-shuler-president-aflcio-gen-z-unions-first-100-days-2021-11

https://aflcio.org/2016/8/30/four-quotes-you-need-read-liz-shulers-speech-wisconsin-working-women

https://techonomy.com/conf/te18/nature-of-work/workers-need-place-futurism-table/

https://twitter.com/lizshuler

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/dec/21/labor-organizing-pandemic-decline

Thanks and a tip of the hat to Cfiles-aflcio, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74867729 for the image.

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