PRAY FOR THE UNIONS, FIGHT LIKE HELL FOR THE WORKERS: I live near the headquarters of AFSCME, the government employees’ union. Because so many of the heroes of 9/11 were government employees (firefighters, police officers, even, as Dick Gephardt noted in his State of the Union reply, postal workers), the headquarters’ showcase window displays an enormous American flag and a banner reading, “Mourn the Dead, Fight for the Living.” I could never begrudge them the sentiment, but every time I pass that banner I think of the quote they’re bowdlerizing, Mother Jones’ famous challenge: “Pray for the dead, fight like hell for the living.” By sanitizing that sharp, untameable woman’s words, AFSCME managed to capture in one banner the union movement’s slide into irrelevance. AFSCME no longer dares to use the language of unionism’s courageous founders. It’s given up on genuinely representing workers–the closed shop and the politicking with union dues have turned unions into leeches on the workers rather than their spokesmen. Unions have become just another boss.

Virginia Postrel offers a hopeful vision of the future of organized labor here. Not as eloquent as Mother Jones, but more accurate and ultimately more helpful to workers.

About Eve Tushnet

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