Class Struggle Unionism

Regular price $ 17.95

by Joe Burns

Haymarket Books

3/1/2023, paperback

SKU: 9781642595840


For those who want to build a fighting labor movement, there are many questions to answer. How to relate to the union establishment which often does not want to fight? Whether to work in the rank and file of unions or staff jobs? How much to prioritize broader class demands versus shop floor struggle? How to relate to foundation-funded worker centers and alternative union efforts? And most critically, how can we revive militancy and union power in the face of corporate power and a legal system set up against us?

Class struggle unionism is the belief that our union struggle exists within a larger struggle between an exploiting billionaire class and the working class which actually produces the goods and services in society. Class struggle unionism looks at the employment transaction as inherently exploitative. While workers create all wealth in society, the outcome of the wage employment transaction is to separate workers from that wealth and create the billionaire class. From that simple proposition flows a powerful and radical form of unionism. Historically, class struggle unionists placed their workplace fights squarely within this larger fight between workers and the owning class. Viewing unionism in this way produces a particular type of unionism which both fights for broader class issues but is also rooted in workplace-based militancy.

Drawing on years of labor activism and study of labor tradition Joe Burns outlines the key set of ideas common to class struggle unionism and shows how these ideas can create a more militant, democratic and fighting labor movement.


"How can we rekindle widespread working class militancy? And what should such militancy seek to achieve? In Class Struggle Unionism, Joe Burns makes the case that a combative, cohesive, and effective labor movement requires class-conscious unions expressly committed to challenging capitalist exploitation. Burns' handbook will prove invaluable to organizers who recognize that taking on the ruling class must begin with an ideological reorientation of the labor movement." -- Toni Gilpin, author, The Long Deep Grudge: A Story of Big Capital, Radical Labor, and Class War in the American Heartland

"Anyone trying to rebuild an effective U.S. labor movement needs to read Class Struggle Unionism by Joe Burns. He lays out the fundamental principles that UE has tried to uphold for the last 85 years. For a union to be worthwhile to the working class, it needs to know which side it is on and it has to recognize that the fight itself is what allows workers to gain the knowledge and power they need." -- Carl Rosen, General President, United Electrical Workers (UE)

"Joe Burns' Class Struggle Unionism gives us a vision of what a labor movement should and could be. Burns reminds us that unions are about more than collective bargaining. When workers take collective action into their own hands, they can change the political agenda and bring real power to the struggles for equality and a truly democratic society." -- Kim Moody, author, On New Terrain: How Capital Is Shaping The Battleground of Class War

About the Author:

Joe Burns is a veteran union negotiator and labor lawyer with over 25 years experience negotiating labor agreements. He is currently the Director of Collective Bargaining for the Association of Flight Attendants, CWA. He graduated from the New York University School of Law. Prior to law school he worked in a public sector hospital and was president of his AFSCME Local. He is the author of Strike Back: Rediscovering Militant Tactics to Fight the Attacks on Public Employee Unions and Reviving the Strike: How Working People Can Regain Power and Transform America.