At labor’s crossroads
Yes, education and health care aren’t the same as mass manufacturing; you cannot impose national wage and benefit standards on them. But in a political moment when it has become all but impossible to imagine a national labor policy that covers all 50 states, the anachronisms of American federalism can be helpful, and labor can start organizing these sectors on the state and local levels. Indeed, in a perfect demonstration of Stern’s mercurial intellect, the former SEIU president agrees. After publishing a book which all but buries unions, Stern, in an article he wrote with the libertarian policy analyst Eli Lehrer for the conservative journal National Affairs, argues for something that is not entirely different from Winant’s view of municipal unionism. Unions, he and Lehrer propose, should seek state waivers in order to experiment with wage and hour rules, union organizational structure, and benefit provisions. In their view, and in Winant’s, these new organizing fights will be, like the one in Seattle, intensely local rather than national. But from them, a more broad-based movement can emerge, using the examples of a successful strike at a prominent employer—such as the one by dining-service workers at Harvard University—to inspire workers elsewhere to start their own fights over pay and benefits.