succeeded in many ways even though it has produced few if any new union members. The A.F.L.-C.I.O. has supported the Fight for $15 but not provided direct financial backing.

Mr. Cohen and Mr. Acuff both cited the importance of building long-term alliances with outside groups — like those championing civil rights or immigrant rights or environmental causes — which can increase labor’s power to demand, say, that an employer stand down during a union campaign.

speech he made in Ferguson, Mo., after a young Black man, Michael Brown, was shot to death by a police officer there in 2014.

But Mr. Trumka faced a backlash on this front from more conservative unions, who believed the proper role of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. was to focus on economic issues affecting members rather than questions like civil rights.

“There were some unions — not just the building trades — who felt like that work was not what we should be focusing on,” Carmen Berkley, a former director of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s Civil, Human and Women’s Rights Department, said in an interview last year.

argued for diverting much of the tens of millions of dollars the labor movement spends on political activities to help more workers unionize.

But Ms. Shuler insists that deciding between investing in organizing and the federation’s other priorities is a false choice.

“I don’t think that they are mutually exclusive,” she said. “The way modern organizations work, you no longer have heavy institutional budgets that are full of line items. We organize around action. We identify a target where there’s heat.” Then, she said, the organizations raise money and get things done.

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