In the last seven years the AFL-CIO has put forth an immense effort to facilitate, support, and encourage organizing initiatives by all affiliates. Although to date progress has been much slower than the leadership of the labor movement had hoped, more recently there have been some signs that those efforts are beginning to bear fruit. A growing number of unions are putting more resources into organizing, recruiting and training more organizers, running more organizing campaigns, winning more elections and voluntary recognitions, and winning them in larger units.
Yet, despite all the new initiatives and resources being devoted to organizing and all the talk of "changing to organize," American unions today are at best standing still. Massive employment losses in manufacturing, retail, hospitality, and airline industries have eliminated hundreds of thousands of union jobs, raising the bar even higher for the number of new workers needed to maintain current union density, much less grow. At the same time, the political climate for organizing has become ever more hostile as the threat of terrorism and the fog of war have been used to justify a full scale attack on civil liberties, federal sector unions, immigrant workers, and organizing and collective bargaining rights.
Even in this climate, some unions, in some industries, have still managed to make major organizing gains, despite intensive employer opposition. In just the last several years we have witnessed significant victories such as CWA at Cingular Wireless, IFPTE at Boeing, UAW at New York University, PACE at Imerys, SEIU at Catholic Healthcare West, UNITE at Brylane, and HERE in the Las Vegas hotels. Although there was great variation in the industry, workforce, union, and company characteristics in each of these campaigns, still a pattern becomes evident—the unions that are most successful at organizing run fundamentally different campaigns, in both quality and intensity, than those that are less successful.
In this paper we focus on these fundamental differences in the nature of winning and losing campaigns which provide us with a blueprint for the kinds of comprehensive organizing strategies that are required to win across a wide range of organizing environments and company and unit characteristics. We also look at the strategic, organizational, and cultural changes the U.S. labor movement must make in order to be able to mount these more comprehensive campaigns and make the gains necessary to significantly increase union density and the political and economic power that goes with it.