Sometimes Things Work

As part of a weeklong series on Las Vegas, The New York Times has this sidebar article on a union that is strong, growing and able to deliver the goods for its members.

Ask people here why Las Vegas is the nation’s fastest-growing city, and they point to the thriving casino industry and to its ever-growing appetite for workers.But there is another, little understood force contributing to the allure of Las Vegas, a force often viewed as the casino industry’s archnemesis. It is Culinary Local 226, also called the Culinary, the city’s largest labor union, an unusual – and unusually successful – union that has done a spectacular job catapulting thousands of dishwashers, hotel maids and other unskilled workers into the middle class.

In most other cities, these workers live near the poverty line. But thanks in large part to the Culinary, in Las Vegas these workers often own homes and have Rolls-Royce health coverage, a solid pension plan and three weeks of vacation a year.

The Culinary’s extraordinary success at delivering for its 48,000 members beckons newcomers from far and wide. By many measures, the Culinary is the nation’s most successful union local; its membership has nearly tripled from 18,000 in the late 1980’s, even as the rest of the labor movement has shrunk. The Culinary is such a force that one in 10 people here is covered by its health plan, and more than 90 percent of the hotel workers on the Strip belong to the union. The union is also unusual because it is a rainbow coalition, 65 percent nonwhite and 70 percent female. It includes immigrants from Central America, refugees from the Balkan wars and blacks from the Deep South.
Read the rest here.

It is my belief that one of the key battles for the progressive movement over the next generation will be reinventing the workers’ movement. I don’t know what form the next workers’ movement will take. It might be through revitalized unions or something entirely new.One of the primary reasons for the decline of unions over the last generation has been that workers have largely viewed unions as irrelevant. Perhaps many of the current unions are. Most current unions were created to protect workers in an industrial economy. They did not foresee an economy based on service workers or information workers.

One of the problems of the information economy is that the workers see themselves as professionals and not laborers. Professions don’t organize for reasons that have little to do their practical economic life. They will be one of the main fronts in the war for the next workers’ movement.

For now, I’m looking for things that work in the new world. In time, I hope the outlines of the next workers’ movement will take shape.

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