Labor Notes 2024 – Watching History Be Made




One of the best moments of the Labor Notes weekend was what didn’t happen: Sean Fain couldn’t give his talk at the Friday night panel because he was busy overseeing the UAW victory at the Volkswagen facility in Tennessee, bringing 4,000 more workers into the union (though he did knock it out of the park to wrap up the weekend when he closed the conference to a standing room only audience on Sunday). The members of the UAW finally got to pick their own president, and they picked a fighter. The subsequent “Stand Up Strike” won them their best increases in decades, if not ever, and those wins inspired others to get organized. This is the upward trajectory for labor, and we need to both capitalize on it and be ready to defend those gains from the inevitable counteroffensive coming from the bosses. 

There were so many things going on so many scales and across so many locations, and the UAW story is indicative of all of it. The working class, especially the organized or soon to be organized working class, is moving to the center stage of politics in the U.S. and across the globe. The 4,500 workers who showed up to the biggest ever Labor Notes conference were younger, more Black and brown, and from more sectors of the economy than ever before. Only two years ago there were few airline workers at Labor Notes. April 20th there were over 200 at a packed industry session. 

Workers who understand that a prerequisite to taking on the boss is a democratic union were there in force, evidenced by UAWD’s burgeoning new caucus and and UFCW’s new caucus dedicated to a direct membership vote for international officers. Educators who are trying to reform the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers also held a lengthy meeting to discuss strategy. 

It was clear that anger from young workers who are unwilling to accept two-tier wage scales, speedup, and having to work two and three jobs is driving this new labor upsurge. But at Labor Notes this was fused with the decades of knowledge and lessons from older fighters, people who have “seen it all” and “made every mistake in the book.” And mushrooming numbers of workers who have had to toil for years under the terrible conditions of a neoliberal economy also added to the mix.

There was a new political edge to the conference, as well. Discussion about the possibility of fascism in the U.S., climate change, and the U.S./Israeli war on Gaza filled the conference halls and workshops. Hundreds of attendees were on hand for a Gaza protest in front of the hotel. When police arrested 2 young people, the crowd converged and forced their release. This was truly an example of the combativity in the working class today, especially among younger workers.

Labor notes is a cross-section of the labor movement in the US today and gives us a clear picture of where we should be looking and to whom. TCDSA must turn its head toward these struggles and these workers or run the risk of history making events passing us by.

By Kip H