Los Angeles teachers just proved that the common wisdom about unions is wrong

by Barry Eidlin (Author)

This op-ed analyzes what the January 2019 Los Angeles teachers’ strike might portend for the future of the US labour movement. I argue that it challenges the conventional wisdom about labor on two fronts. First, contrary to predictions that last year’s Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME would lead to labour’s downfall, the Los Angeles teachers strike shows how unions can survive, and even thrive, in the post-Janus landscape. The key involves methodical organizing based in the workplace that then radiates outwards to the community. That organizing needs to be centered around a compelling alternative vision of the future that counters the employer narrative. And it needs to prepare workers for the fight that will be necessary to realize that vision. That kind of organizing challenges a second piece of conventional wisdom, namely that strikes don’t work anymore. Instead, some argue that unions need to adopt a more collaborative approach towards management that makes a “value proposition” about their worth to the enterprise. UTLA showed that with proper organization, strikes and a more confrontational approach can win big.