Law for the Rank & Filer

1) Can you tell ZNet, please, what Labor Law for the Rank & Filer is about? What is it trying to communicate?

       The first editions of Labor Law for the Rank & Filer (1978, 1982) were by Staughton Lynd alone.  In doing the oral histories with his wife Alice that they published in a book entitled Rank and File, Staughton concluded that there were many rank-and-file workers who were mistreated by their employers and inadequately represented by their unions.  This book was for them.

       After law school, Staughton got a job with the Youngstown, Ohio law firm that represented local unions.  When the first edition of Labor Law for the Rank & Filer appeared, Staughton gave a copy to his boss.  He was fired the next day.

    The current edition of LLRF continues making the argument that workers are most powerful when they are organized in member-controlled unions in which workers on the shop-floor, not union bureaucrats, are the primary actors.  While the focus of the book is struggle at work, its central concept that individual members of an affected community should lead, control, and carry out their own actions should be useful to those seeking dramatic social change in any field

(2) Can you tell ZNet something about writing the book? Where does the content come from? What went into making the book what it is?

       As explained in the book’s opening pages, "Basically, this is a do-it-yourself book.   . . .  Our point of view is that whenever a problem can be solved without the help of a lawyer, do it."  Here the lawyer sympathetic to rank-and-file workers, and workers themselves, must walk a delicate line.  Staughton, having advocated for prisoners in Youngstown’s many new prisons for the past dozen years, has experience with both workers and prisoners representing themselves.  One of the most important things lawyers can contribute to their efforts is to help them distinguish between occasions when they can perfectly well be their own advocates and situations where a lawyer’s input will make success more likely.

    Daniel’s contributions to the book were motivated both by his own experience organizing at Starbucks and other companies as well as the legal questions he fields from rank and file organizers across the country.

    We hope that the blend of case law, personal experiences, and stories from other organizers showcased in the book illuminate the need-to-know legal principles and empower rank and file organizers to fight to win.

(3) What are your hopes for Labor Law for the Rank & Filer? What do you hope it will contribute or achieve politically? Given the effort and aspirations you have for the book, what will you deem to be a success? What would leave you happy about the whole undertaking? What would leave you wondering if it was worth all the time and effort?

       Overall, Lynd and Gross propose a style of struggle they call "solidarity unionism."  The idea is that workers should act for themselves rather than delegating  their claims to full-time union staff for solution.  Some examples of solidarity unionism are the activity of the Industrial Workers of the World; the bottom-up organizing of industrial workers in the United States before the passage of the National Labor Relations Act; and Polish Solidarity.  Solidarity unionists will not bargain away the right to strike, as has become commonplace in mainstream collective bargaining.  Instead they will expand that right, experimenting with work-to-rule as at A.E. Staley in Decatur, Illinois and plant occupations, and reaching out horizontally to their counterparts in other workplaces to undertake sympathy strikes, boycotts, and local and national general strikes.  The book ends with a defiant affirmation that "Another world is possible."

     Deciding to take on the boss with your co-workers is both profound and challenging.  LLRF is a success if it serves as a useful tool for workers participating in or thinking about getting involved in a struggle for dignity at work

    At the risk of sounding sentimental, there is something majestic about the awesome power of rank and file organizing, unencumbered as it is with unaccountable leadership that can easily be co-opted into promoting the boss’s interests.  The process by which workers develop as leaders and skilled fighters through struggle on the shop floor is a beautiful one.  We hope above all that LLRF honors and furthers that process and that struggle.

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