Leadership Development Unionism


NOTE: The paper below was written in the early months of January 2001.  While the paper’s anticipation of the centrifugal forces pulling at the labor movement and the possibility of international unions “literally leaving the AFL-CIO” unfortunately proved prescient of the Change to Win split, it has been even more difficult than anticipated to re-build the labor movement in numbers and strength.  The argument of the paper that internal changes within the movement have been short-changed and that the trade union movement needs a cultural revolution — “Leadership Development Unionism” — is therefore as important as ever.  If anything, the  search for the silver bullet to regain our footing may be more seductive than before with the new Democratic majority in Congress.  At its core, however, the transformation of our trade union movement and of our society begins, as always, with the transformation of our members. — Jeff Crosby, President, North Shore Labor Council, Massachusetts, Feb. 2007


The year 2000 was a difficult year for the US trade union movement.  In particular, the Republican George Bush won despite a massive mobilization by the unions, and organizing successes dropped across the board.  Union membership dropped both in absolute numbers and in density (as a percentage of the workforce).  President Sweeney’s hopeful statement at the beginning of last year that “we have not turned the corner, but we have reached the corner” has proven to be over-optimistic.

There is a tendency among both more conservative and progressive elements in our movement to turn away from the initiatives of the Federation of the last five years.  The more activist internationals may feel that they have to survive on their own, or may even do so literally by leaving the AFL-CIO, as the Carpenters have done.  Other international unions such as the UAW and the Teamsters have always acted stand-offish, as though they were better off on their own road.

Count the authors of this article as among those who believe that the changes in the labor movement in the last five years have been in the right direction, but that we need to change more, not less.  We may be in the fifth year of a ten-year effort to turn the tide.

And count us among those who believe that the internal transformation of the movement has everything to do with its survival — an internal transformation that has been given too little attention by even the progressives in the movement.

Today’s Labor Movement: New Challenges, Old Culture

The advent of the “New Voices” leadership to the AFL-CIO in 1995 brought great advances for the labor movement and opportunities for the left within that movement.  Suddenly progressives in the labor movement were confronted with challenges on all fronts — but now the challenge was not primarily how to get a creaky bureaucracy off its ass and onto the field.  Post 1995, the challenge was how to engage and mobilize members in solidarity with other unions, organizing drives, re-building the Central Labor Councils, educating around issues rather than just candidates during elections, etc.  A leftist might even get a job in the AFL-CIO!

The AFL-CIO leaders are willing to exert power to defend our standard of living.  They are more willing than their predecessors to take some political risks in their relationship with the Democratic Party.  They are determined to rebuild organized labor’s numbers with more attention to organizing.  They dismantled most of the “Cold War” machinery in the AFL-CIO international department and replaced them with “Solidarity Centers.”  And they reached out to allies, from community organizations in minority nationality neighborhoods to new immigrants to gays and lesbians to academics and students.

The AFL-CIO today understands the need for the labor movement to build its own power even to defend its very existence.  As elementary as this may seem, this is a long way from the famous remark of George Meany: “I never went on strike in my life, never ran a strike, never ordered anyone on strike, never had anything to do with a picket line.”  President John Sweeney’s promise to “block bridges” where he couldn’t “build bridges” sounds positively Wobblyesque in comparison.

Yet, as progressive trade unionists seized the new opportunities, the shortcomings of the “New Voices” approach stood out as well.  We are not talking only about policy issues, such as missing the boat on corporate globalization prior to the Seattle demonstrations, or the remnants of Cold War practice regarding Cuba and China, or the wishful thinking that hopes to trade peace with large corporations in return for growth of the unions.

Rather we are talking about the top-down methods that sometimes affect even the best of the AFL-CIO activists and most international unions.  As others have pointed out (notably Mike Eisenscher and Labor Notes authors), workers are often seen as cannon fodder to be “mobilized” by smart tacticians.  Clever analysts hire themselves out to a union or to the Federation, figure out corporate weaknesses, come up with a slogan, and call out the troops against the corporate tacticians who are unprepared for labor’s new aggressiveness.  With the new “best and the brightest” working for our side, the future is secure.

Democracy inside unions, the development of new leaders at every level of the movement, the transformation of our people from objects to subjects, to makers of their own history — all of this is given short shrift.  The fact is that the labor movement today is still dominated by a deadly culture which resists changes, resists debate, resists the growth of new leadership.

Much of the fault for this resides in the International Unions, which as a whole have changed much less in the last five years than the Federation.  For it is still in the individual International Unions that most workers live their activist lives.

This deadly union culture is not simply an abstract ideological point, nor a rarified background piece to the discussion of our future.  Rather, it goes to the heart of each day of the work we do.  As we shall see, it goes to the heart of tactics — how rallies are planned, how meetings, organizing drives, educational classes are run, which articles go into the union paper and what goes into other literature — and how we see ourselves and how our members then see us.

The Needs of the Moment vs. the Culture of the Past

Simply put, Leadership Development means that in each and every project in the labor movement, organizers put their highest priority into developing self-conscious, class-conscious leaders in our unions.  These are leaders who can think critically and independently, develop strategy and tactics, who see the goals of the movement as a whole as well as the immediate challenge, and who can move others.

We are in a period of the movement when we need exactly what Leadership Development Unionism aims to create: tens of thousands of leaders at all levels of our movement who fit the above description.  This is more important than winning or losing any particular battle.  The shortage of competent, experienced union organizers is one example of the current deficit of such leaders.

We are still overwhelmed by the attacks by the corporations, both on the job and in society.  Faced with the mobility and supremacy of capital worldwide, collective bargaining has only got more difficult, despite the expansion of the economy (in terms of certain numbers like Gross Domestic Product) and long-term low unemployment.  Concessions have continued in many industries, while advances have been made in others.

Ironically, this is true even though the political winds have shifted in our direction.  The AFL-CIO has in some cases seized on issues where we can drive the national agenda, from raising the minimum wage to defending social security.  On others the Federation has been unnecessarily defensive, such as trade issues.  Still, polling and our own experience — above all the massive support for the demonstrators in Seattle at the WTO meetings — tell us that the potential is there to build a powerful anti-corporatist movement in the United States.

Exactly what that anti-corporatist agenda is, of course, part of the problem.  Internal polling by the AFL-CIO showed that union members really have no alternative to the free-market arguments of the corporations.  In fact union leaders themselves often have no alternative, either.  Despite attempts to do some basic economic education by the AFL-CIO, the problem remains.  In large part this is an ideological problem rooted in the failures of socialism and the dominance of an extreme free-market ideology of individualism.  As Margaret Thatcher sneered to one and all: “There is No Alternative.”

But the other obstacle to developing the tens of thousands of leaders described above — and the target of this paper — is that the current culture of the labor movement works against leadership development.  By culture, we mean values and behaviors passed down through generations.  In fact, the dominant labor movement culture works to stifle new voices, drives out people with initiative, raises petty rivalries above genuine differences, and most often sends the same message as the schools and companies: shut up and do what you are told.  Don’t deviate from the norm, or you’ll be marginalized, losing any ability to contribute.  And you don’t really know anything worth listening to, anyway.

The truth is that in most unions, a critical voice is seen as a disruption, and an energetic new activist is seen as a potential challenger to the current office-holders.  Too many leaders spend too much time figuring out how to stay in office.  As some have put it, in most unions, “if you have a pulse, you are a threat.”

Without conscious and collective analysis and action, the weight of the dominant culture tends to change us more than we can change it.

Examples of this deadening union culture abound.  There is the newly elected local official who showed up at her first regional union meeting and found that union staff were afraid to talk to her.  There are the standard maneuvers of incumbents resigning before the end of the term and appointing a successor so that no challenge can be mounted.  There are the parliamentary procedures that make it difficult for a new topic even to get on a meeting agenda.  There is the use of in-house attorneys or other “experts” to back up official positions and discourage discussion.  There are the huge amalgamated locals where meetings are hours from workers’ homes, or rarely even held.

And we are not even talking about the continuing problems of dual and triple and six-figure salaries, nepotism, or out-and-out corruption.  These obviously continue to be problems as well in many unions.

Of course there will be a problem of bureaucracy in any organization or social movement.  And we do not argue against the necessity of full-time union staff or elected officials.  But it is wrong to minimize the problems we are describing here.  They are at the heart of the barriers holding back a labor movement resurgence.

Leadership Development Unionism: More than Formal Democracy

We are talking here about much more than the right to vote on contracts or similar guarantees of democracy, as important as those are.  Many good leaders don’t know how to develop other leaders.  And our members may themselves believe that they have nothing to offer, or don’t really deserve anything better than what they have right now.  And union members certainly are susceptible to the cycle of searching for the great leader, being let down, and searching for another great leader that is so typical to American hero worship and cynicism.

A central part of the evaluation of every action, march, strike, election, organizing drive, and meeting should be,  How did we get people involved?  Who are we developing as leaders?

To develop new leaders, we have to change our work with the principle that how we do our organizing is as important as what we do.  Organizing with an eye to leadership development may take more time than traditional organizing.  But it is worth it in the long run.

For example:

1) The mayor of your town may respond positively to your efforts to pass a “Voice at Work” resolution (on the right to organize a union) through the City Council.  “I’ll attach it to a budget amendment.  It’ll sail through with no problem,” he may offer.  Easily done.  OR. . . .

On the other hand, the leadership development method requires that a group plan the effort, thoughtfully considering such questions as “What will be different if this passes?  What can we draw from if we have a problem in an organizing campaign next year?”  This kind of planning requires some collective discussion of who has power in the community and how to change that.  Council delegates involved in the Voice at Work resolution present an evaluation at the next Council meeting.

The City Council meeting itself would have workers speaking at the meeting, after speaking to City Councilors beforehand.  An effort would be made to bring union members and other community supporters to the meeting.  A worker from that town would speak about his or her experiences.  The point would be made that unions are good for the town.

This is a lot more work.  It might mean that you only get the resolution through a few cities in a year, instead of a dozen.  But when you are done, you have union members with better analytical and speaking skills, you have relationships between these members and some councilors, you have demonstrated to both the councilors and your own members how things work and what your power is.  You have some Leadership Development.

2) In an organizing drive, you hold a meeting with some non-union workers.  Part of the plan from the beginning is to “inoculate” the activists for the anti-union campaign to come.

You have some literature from the International Union on the “ten biggest anti-union lies”: “Give me another chance,” “strike violence,” etc.  You can pass out the pamphlet and discuss it.  OR. . . .

You ask the question, “What are the things the Company is going to say once you start talking union?”  People have already been dealing with this or at least worrying about it.  And they may have the same questions or arguments among themselves, or at least with their friends.  They are already dealing with questions like, “What happens to the dues?”

You list the Company arguments the in-plant folks come up with.  You hear some of the “ten biggest anti-union lies,” and you also hear some new things, as you learn about a failed union campaign in the same workplace eight years ago.  Then you go back over the list, posing the question, “How would you answer them?”  As a group, the activists come up with the answers, and you contribute to the discussion as well.

This takes longer.  But people gain more confidence in each other, and in their own ability to deal with the Company, which will help in resisting the brutal anti-union campaign and also in building the Union if you win the vote.  You get a little Leadership Development.

3) At your annual Awards Dinner of your Local union, Labor Council, Constituency group, or whatever, your give awards to the biggest locals, the president of the State Federation gets another plaque for his crowded office wall, and you bring in a national leader for the main speech.  OR. . . .

You recognize rank and file activists, not just the local leaders.  When they come up for their award, they are asked to thank a mentor in the labor movement who inspired them to contribute, made room for them, modeled for them, or whatever.  The lesson becomes “the movement is a river, and leaders come and go.”  The best leaders are those who help others to lead.  The simple message of “Isn’t he a great guy, and an articulate speaker?” fades.  This may require more work than the traditional dinner and will definitely require you to cut some of the usual suspects from the agenda if you aren’t going to stay all night.

4) The negotiating committee has reached a tentative agreement with the company over a new contract.  The members have been involved in the contract campaign to a good extent.  You call a meeting and pass out the agreement at the door.  The chief negotiator (President, Business Agent, International Rep., whatever) gives a long report, going over the agreement article by article, taking questions from the members.  OR. . . .

The negotiating committee includes workers from the shop.  The International Representative has an overall role in the presentation, but the workers from the shop present parts of it, explaining how the union compromised, how the new language may affect people in his or her particular department, etc.  Shortcomings are clearly explained, as the basis for the next round of struggle with the Company.  At the very least a summary of the agreement is passed out a day or two before the meeting.

Members learn the process of negotiation.  The inevitable gap between the committee members in the negotiating bubble and the members in the workplace is reduced.  Leaders form the rank and file take ownership of the agreement, learn to speak at meetings, and defend their decisions.  Members in the shop gain respect for leaders from their ranks, not just the smart Chief Negotiator, however deserving he may be.  They may be more willing to ask questions, raise doubts — and perhaps more willing to trust the answer, since rank and file workers were involved in the process.

Some General Points

Responsibilities are shared whenever possible.  Co-chairs instead of chairs of committees may let a new person work with a more experienced person, or just let two people contribute who are not willing to take on a leadership task on their won.  Mentors are specifically assigned and recognized.  “Active listening” is specifically taught as an organizing skill.  Cultural activities and fun are part of the plan.

Every meeting has a purpose.  People know why they are being asked to come and are given an opportunity to prepare for the discussions.  Decisions are made, and there are assignments, accountability, report-backs, datelines, etc. that are understood by all.  If something is not different after the meeting than before it, it may have been an unnecessary meeting.

“Free space” is worked into projects, time that is set aside for sharing experiences, getting to know each other, not part of the more formally structured meeting after meeting after meeting.  The churches and temples do this better than we do today.

While the examples given here are deliberately very specific to particular organizing situations, Leadership Development Unionism has implications for the movement as a whole.  Education Departments in the AFL-CIO and International Unions are usually woefully understaffed.  When a recent plan was developed for leadership development training for Central Labor Councils, CLC leaders found that trainers for the project had to be patched together from diverse sources — there was no ready capacity in the movement to take up such a project.  Most International Unions emphasize almost exclusively skills-based education.  This is of course essential to training leaders and activists, but will not change the culture of the movement and will not sustain activists over the long haul.

The Meany Center offers any number of good classes.  But it could serve as a change engine in the movement and address more directly the underlying problems affecting leadership development.  And it too would have to be funded and staffed at a higher level than it is today.

Beyond “Diversity”

This being America, all of the above is especially true for transforming both the gender, race, and nationality make-up of the leadership at all levels of our movement.  It is a fact that the most pro-union sectors of the working class are women, people of color, and immigrants, as opposed to men, whites, and the native-born.  The working class is itself more and more made up of people of color, and the workforce is more and more made up of women.  This is acknowledged in both AFL-CIO and outside research and literature.  And the Federation and the Organizing Institute have made efforts to attract and hire a more diverse staff, and a more diverse AFL-CIO Executive Council has been elected.

But again, this process has not proceeded nearly as well in most International Unions, where power is centered and where most workers see the face of the labor movement.  Incredibly, there are still unions who do not or will not even translate union contracts into Spanish or other languages where bargaining units have a large number of members who do not have English as a first language.

Leadership by women and people of color in union locals, Central Labor Councils, State Federations, and International Union Executive Boards has not advanced beyond token levels in most cases.  This is especially true if you look at the core decision-making positions in those organizations, the true positions of power.

More than making the leadership of the labor movement “look like” its membership, leadership development unionism has a particular task of breaking down the alienation of women and members of color from their unions and bringing the political leadership of those workers into play.  They face an even more difficult road to access the union than white workers do.  They tend to not be included into the informal networks where one finds out who is running for what office.  They are likely to feel less welcome at meetings.  When they do get involved or get elected, they often walk a lonely path, with no support mechanism of other women or people of color to ease the way.

Leadership development unionism does not mean ultra-democracy or the absence of political struggle.  Democracy is meaningless if oppressed and disenfranchised members of society are not able to exercise political power in their communities or in their unions.  This means that white, male union activists, in particular, must wage a thorough and thoughtful struggle against racism, sexism, and homophobia.  Solidarity and Equality need to walk together, hand in hand.  Principled struggle against divisions that exist in the working class will strengthen and expand democracy, not weaken it.

One of the things that many workers, including native-born whites and African-Americans, like about the union is that it is a place where workers of different colors and cultures get together.  There is a chauvinist current among white workers, of course, as well as a nativist current among US-born workers in general, including African-American and Chicano workers.  But there is also an anti-racist current among these workers that is rarely actively tapped by the labor movement.

Minority nationality culture needs to be integrated into all aspects of a union program.  Perhaps one day white workers in the US will actually learn that the Mexican Constitution is superior to the US Constitution in terms of workers’ rights.  Some day the only black speaker on the program will not be the minister for the opening prayer.  And perhaps white union leaders will finally figure out that we did notall come here as immigrants looking for a better life.”

All of this will also strengthen the alliance of the labor movement and the other independent social movements of people of color and women.

Sources of Inspiration

We have already acknowledged the contributions here of several current writers on the labor movement.  The trade union movement also needs to learn from other social movements and sources, more than just practicing “rank and file democracy.”  Fortunately  there is a growing body of thought from diverse sources from which to seek inspiration.

  • African-American People’s History

From the African-American struggle has come a new wave of historians who are examining the civil rights movement from the point of view of those lesser known figures who built the movement on the ground.  The book I’ve Got the Light of Freedom, by Charles M. Payne, traces “a particular tradition of social struggle” in the African-American community through the work of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in the Mississippi Delta in the early 1960s.   He describes it this way:

SNCC in the early sixties seems to have thought about the process of developing leadership in much the same terms Septima Clark and Ella Baker had thought about it two decades earlier.  It was a matter of finding those individuals who through force of personality or character commanded the respect of their neighbors.  It was a matter of getting people to work on their own behalf, not having someone else work for them, a matter of thrusting people into positions they didn’t think themselves “qualified” to handle, a matter of creating an atmosphere in which people feel free to make mistakes and try again.  It was a matter of making sure that the people themselves were a part of the decision-making process. (331-332)

“I have always thought what is needed is the development of people who are interested not in being leaders as much as developing leadership in others,” Ella Baker believedElla Baker left the male hierarchy and top-down leadership style of SCLC to help start SNCC, which developed a more horizontal, collective decision-making process.  Local people were empowered to make decisions on their own behalf.  Charles Payne, Clayborne Carson, John Dittmer, and Kay Mills are sources for examination of SNCC’s work.

Payne notes that there was an unusually large number of women activists in the Mississippi movement at that time, and speculates that SNCC’s organizing style was, in part, both a source and a product of the women’s participation.

  • Feminist Theory

Women, in practice and as developers of feminist theory, have often led the way.  Audre Lorde, an African-American lesbian socialist, wrote about the ways of the oppressor being internalized in the way we think and act.  As we facilitate the development of a new generation of working class leaders, one of the attributes we need to include is the ability to be critical and self-aware.

When we do our work, we must focus on developing truly liberating alternatives to the conditioning we have received in this culture.  As Audre Lorde said, “For we have, built into all of us, old blueprints of expectation and response, old structures of oppression, and these must be altered at the same time as we alter the living conditions which are a result of those structures.  For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

This awareness is particularly important when we do achieve positions of power because there is such a strong tendency to “imitate the oppressor.”  We have too many examples in the labor movement of reform leaders who are elected and then forget that a democratic process and a rank-and-file movement was responsible for their victory.  In order to ensure that a new model of power is put into place, mechanisms must be developed that ensure accountability and adherence to the principles that will bring about true rank-and-file empowerment.

  • “Popular Education”

Septima Clark and Ella Baker both attended and led workshops at the Highlander School in East Tennessee.  Highlander and the Citizenship Schools helped produce the grassroots leaders so necessary to the ultimate success of the Civil Rights movement.  Myles Horton, the director of Highlander, became a leading voice in the United States for what is generally known as “Popular Education”.

Highlander was one of only two places in the South (with the Penn School in the Sea Islands) where Martin Luther King could hold interracial trainings in the early days of the Civil Rights Movement.  Highlander also trained union activists during the CIO insurgence, and environmental and community activists in recent years.

Popular education has been described as “an approach to education that is in the interest of oppressed groups.  We involve people in a process of critical analysis so they can, potentially, act collectively to change oppressive structures . . . the  process is participatory, creative, and empowering.” (Arnold, etc. 1986)

Horton became a friend of the Brazilian educator Paolo Freire, who is generally recognized as the father of this school of educational theory, or pedagogy.  Freire rejected the authoritarian, dogmatic, sectarian, hierarchical tradition of much of the left. Rather than “preaching from on high” in the manner that is typical of formal education, popular education emphasizes starting with what people already know, and learning through collective action.

The more people participate in the process of their own education, the more the people participate in the process of defining what kind of production to produce, and for what and why, the more the people participate in the development of their selves. (Paolo Freire)

4. Gramsci: Civil Society and Hegemony. 

The resurgence of interest in the work of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci in South America has caught the attention of some Northern trade unionists as well.  His emphasis on the role of civil society and the struggle against bourgeois cultural hegemony seems fertile ground for a renewed emphasis on creating democratic institutions and practices while we live under capitalism.  As he put it,

Between the economic structure and the State with its legislation and its coercion stands civil society, and the latter must be radically transformed, in a concrete sense and not simply on the statute-book or in scientific books. (Prison Notebooks, p.208)

Gramsci’s description of the inter-relationship between the state, economic activity, and “civil society” helps explain also why it is that workers act against their own interests and why the struggle to transform civil society and destroy bourgeois ideological hegemony in society is so important.  And his work is an often unacknowledged theoretical parent to the anti-corporate explosion of grass roots “non-governmental organizations” (NGOs) that made their presence felt at the Seattle anti-WTO demonstrations.

  • The Marxist Tradition

For generations, workers around the world have been inspired by revolutionary movements in countries that attempted to put the masses of people in charge of society.  From the Soviet Union and China, to Cuba, Nicaragua, Mozambique, and Vietnam, workers put their lives on the line trying to bring about their vision of a new society run in the interests of people not profit.  Despite all the mistakes that have been made and the failure of most socialist countries to bring about real democracy, the Marxist tradition offers invaluable contributions to this discussion of how to empower workers.

For example, an extraordinary peasant movement and army led by Mao Tse-tung overthrew a feudal, corrupt, and foreign-dominated regime.  Mao developed the theory of the “mass line,” that politics necessarily comes “from the masses” and is returned “to the masses,” after being rationalized with the help of theory.  It is returned in the form of political line and policy, which is then tested in practice by the people, summed up again, etc., in an endless cycle.   This is essentially the Marxist theory of knowledge with the interjection of the role of the people as actors in the cycle.

The mass line is (ironically) also an antidote to the all-knowing Great Leader, the Outside Consultant, the Democratic Pollster, and the genius theory of history.  Listen to the People, they might have something to tell you.


Many of the influences mentioned here can be contradictory or problematic in one way or another.  Some feminists propose a “feminist pedagogy,” different than that of popular education, criticizing the latter for an overemphasis on class and on the role of the popular educator.  Some may find it odd to seek inspiration from Marxists, since popular education developed in part in opposition to the strongest socialist movements of the day and their dictatorial tendencies.

In turn, popular education can be presented as a mysterious grab-bag of tricks that only the popular educator understands.  An hour in a class with one of these can leave you screaming: “Just do me the respect of telling me what you are trying to make me understand, and I’ll tell you if I agree or not.  But no more games!”

In a different movement at a different time, this talk about “Leadership Development” could lead to all kinds of romantic notions of just how far we can expect to go in creating new women and men while we are still neck-deep in a dog-eat-dog society.  Some of these concepts can and have been used to obscure the fundamental categories of class and the role of the working class in the transformation of society.

Certainly with the crush of work and the daily crises facing most union leaders at all levels, doing it right is a  tough challenge.

So, two final points to keep all this in focus: first, we do not mention the above five currents (“Sources of Inspiration”) because we find them without fault.  We do suggest that there is something to learn from them all.  We acknowledge our debt to these currents and encourage others to look farther, to continue to develop liberating methods and theory for working people.

Second, “leadership development unionism” is a method of work, not  a political strategy.  Your method of organizing is influenced by your political strategy and your goals.  But they are not the same thing.

What this paper does offer is a criticism of the current culture of the labor movement.  The labor movement’s culture is little different than the dominant culture we all live under in this capitalist society.  All the emphasis is placed on the role of the individual and the role of the collective is negated.  What we offer here are some ideas for a counter-culture for the new labor movement, rooted in the best of the social movements of our history.

In terms of leadership development, the goal of a union leader is to make himself or herself replaceable.  The essential task of leadership is finding ways for members to make contributions, learn, feel positive about that contribution, and come back for more.  We need a culture in the labor movement where the highest praise you can offer an active trade unionist is that he or she got someone involved, inspired someone, welcomed someone.  This works.  There are people in your union right now who have Leadership Development skills.  Very likely many are women.

Leadership Development unionism is neither a luxury we cannot afford, nor a “soft skill” from a consciousness-raising group.  It is an up-front investment that pays off a thousand-fold down the road.  It is a necessity if the labor movement is to meet the challenges of this period.  If we don’t change the culture of the movement, we drive away our one essential “resource” — our people.

While borrowing from different traditions, the objective is straightforward.  We work to ground workers in an ideological point of view that aims to change society as a whole, develop a collective style and practice that puts the interests of the working people ahead of their own individual interests, and builds a radical, participatory form of democracy in this country.

It might be best to end with a quote from Myles Horton of Highlander:

If I had to put my finger on what I consider a good educator, a good radical educator,  it wouldn’t be anything about methods or techniques.  It would be loving people first.  If you don’t do that, as Che Guevara says, there’s no point in being a revolutionary.  I agree with that.  And that means all people everywhere, not just your family or your own countrymen or your own color.  And wanting for them what you want for yourself.  And the next is respect for people’s abilities to learn and to act and to shape their own lives.  You have to have confidence that people can do that. . .  (We Make the Road by Walking, Horton and Freire, p. 177)

Jeff Crosby is President of the North Shore Labor Council.
Paul McLennan is a retired member of the Amalgamated Transit Union, Atlanta. 

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