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It’s difficult for me to write about the labor movement without coming off like some sort of supercilious asshole. So generally I don’t write about the movement at all.

Too bad.

I suppose that we all realize that every new day presents the opportunity to reshape the world around us and to redefine that which is at the heart of “us.”

In my experience it’s been the exceedingly rare day when it seemed simultaneously possible and desirable, “desirable” being the more constant of the two constructs.

To a greater or lesser degree on any given day I, like you, am an agent of change in this world. At the same time I can conceive of myself as an object with the potential to be changed by circumstances in the world. And, maybe like you, that’s how I’ve lived much of my adult working life: changing the world (generally in fairly small but not entirely insignificant ways) or allowing myself to be changed by that world. On really memorable days, both.

Of course I was distracted in my work by the mundane. Still am in retirement, as I suppose we all must be while living. But the mundane is maybe less intrusive for me in retirement, where I juggle less and have elastic deadlines.

Retirement has allowed me to think more, and to maybe more consciously appreciate the possibilities revealed and limits imposed by my own perspectives.

Moving back and forth between the new town of Las Galeras, RD and the political center of Washington, DC is more than culturally jarring. The bi-annual shift of the entire context of my life seems to sharpen my appreciation of the context or frame from which I focus on the world around me.

The end result is that I in my complacency, whether in Washington DC or in Las Galeras, RD, am shaken up twice a year.

I count this a good thing and I recommend it, particularly to those of you who may be in leadership positions in the American labor movement.

Probably it is intelligence, hard work, and good fortune that brought you to your position in the movement today and that sustains you in your office. But those same admirable qualities may not be what is needed to grow our movement.

Consider: you’ve got an important job with lots of administrative responsibilities. Your focus is on fulfilling your responsibilities. It’s a full-time job. Maybe you are like me to the extent that, somewhere along the temporal arc of your career, the relative emphasis of your work gradually shifted. I suppose that you now spend more of your time advocating for equity and less time agitating for change.

Like it or not, as you’ve moved up in your organization you have taken on additional administrative responsibilities with each advance. You now have responsibilities that constrain you in previously unimaginable ways and, if you’re like me, a strong temptation to define yourself by how well you meet those responsibilities.

Most of the union leaders that I have been priveledged to meet are really pretty good people. Consistently, they are smart; they are generally diligent workers who administer their national offices while maintaining complicated political, business, and financial relationships all in the best interest of their membership. It’s a full-time job and it’s important and it is rewarding but, for many, the job distracts from the possibilities of the position.

Perhaps you’re now less willing to risk failing. In successfully fulfilling your responsibilities perhaps you find an accompanying tendency towards complacency. Perhaps such a combination directs your focus to the mundane; maybe you choose to attend solely to the daily administration of your organization. You take care of business by repeating the things that brought you successfully to your position.

Actually, others should be fulfilling those functions within your organization now. You should move on to lead America.

From the outside, where I stand now, it appears as though you’re entirely unaware of the broad cultural and economic context that frames the lives of workers.

You seem reluctant to embrace the unique and powerful position that you hold within that broad cultural context.

You appear unwilling to engage the unfamiliar, to address the central issues of our society and to engage directly the citizens impacted by policies that can yet be impacted by concerted effort.

You didn’t always behave like that, or you wouldn’t be where you are.

Shake up, wake up, or embrace the risk of sharing the power of your position. It’s really the only way for your organization to survive.

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