Rich Yeselson worked in the labor movement as a strategist and researcher for contract and organizing campaigns for over 20 years. “Fortress Unionism” an essay he wrote in 2013 for Democracy about the decline of the postwar labor movement and its future prospects, has been widely read, discussed and contested among labor activists and thinkers. For Labor Day, 2014, he seemed like a good person to ask about the challenges and opportunities for American unions today. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of a conversation we had over e-mail.
Are unions dead?
Their power has declined enormously, obviously, but unions, especially the largest ten or so, are still significant American institutions. Their national political influence is more defensive than pro-active, but unions played a big role in strategizing and passing the Affordable Care Act, and recent executive orders indicate that they are still able to win some advances for their members and workers generally, at least when Democrats have some power.