Watching filmmaker Michael Moore address the throngs of union workers in Wisconsin this morning made me think about class struggle in the United States. While some union leadership of my father's generation sold out the struggle in return for power and influence, those who fought to establish unions in my grandfather's generation understood the importance of solidarity.
When my generation rejected the American Dream of consumerism, it wasn't so different from my grandfather's generations' rejection of the American nightmare. We both supported the socialist values reflected in Social Security, workplace safety, and environmental protection.
But between the 1930s, when my grandfather's generation was beaten by soldiers and police for organizing against the aristocracy, and the 1960s, when the same was done to my generation, my father's generation was pacified by the promise of shared wealth. When that promise was broken, union leadership had by and large been co-opted.
Notable exceptions include the California nurses, Chicago teachers, and the international longshore workers, but for the generation that came of age in the 1990s, union leadership on critical social issues was almost non-existent. Like the warmongers of the 1960s, the national union leadership betrayed solidarity even to the point of supporting free trade.
So it should be no surprise that there is some anti-union resentment in the country beyond the fundamentalist Christians and the aristocracy. If the union movement wants to recover their influence and respect, they will need to promote to national leadership people who are strong enough to stand against the aristocracy, and smart enough to organize public support for that stand. And that's going to take a lot more than the occasional rally with celebrities like Michael Moore.