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Building Labor’s Power in California: Raising Standards and Expanding Capacity Among Central Labor Councils, The State Labor Federation, and Union Affiliates

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[Excerpt] For several years, the California Labor Federation has been engaged in a strategic planning process that began with a critical evaluation of a political setback in 2004 – losing an important statewide ballot initiative – and soon evolved into a systematic effort to elevate the performance of all the labor movement’s constituent parts. Spearheaded by a statewide Strategic Planning Committee, union leaders throughout the state have struggled to overcome organizational weaknesses, to develop a common and coherent program, to articulate standards and benchmarks to guide and track progress, to establish systems of accountability uncommon in the contemporary labor movement, and to build unity of purpose and action among diverse affiliates. Despite the many challenges inherent in this enterprise, California unionists have made significant progress and members of the Strategic Planning Committee remain positive, even passionate, about their mission. “To be quite honest, I was reluctant to participate in the committee,” admits IBEW Vice President Mike Mowrey. “But this experience has given me a new perspective. I started to see the potency and potential when unions really get together.” This article tells the story of these union leaders and their ongoing efforts to build labor’s power across the state of California. As a result of their solid work, and with vitally important support from the national AFL-CIO, California unionists are building organizations – the State Federation, Central Labor Councils, and affiliated unions – that are increasingly capable of shaping and driving a working peoples’ agenda in the nation’s largest state.

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California; labor movement; unions; California Labor Federation


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Required Publisher Statement: Copyright by Blackwell Publishing. Final paper published as Grabelsky, J. (2009). Building labor’s power in California: Raising standards and expanding capacity among central labor councils, the state labor federation, and union affiliates. WorkingUSA, 12(1), 17-44.

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