Labor Day 1991 finds organized labor marching on the Capitol in an attempt to resuscitate the weakened liberal coalition of unions, minorities and other wellsprings of traditional Democratic Party power. The aim of these marchers, like that of those in the first Solidarity Day a decade ago, is to mobilize attention and support for a crazy-quilt of labor and liberal causes ranging from strike issues to health care and civil rights.
Now, as then, the labor movement finds itself mounting an uphill offensive. Its numbers have dwindled to fewer than one in six workers. Congress, an increasingly fair-weather friend, dealt the AFL-CIO a body blow this year when many long-time Democratic allies backed the president's bid for extended trade powers. This demonstrated, with painful clarity, the eroding might of the labor lobby -- despite the fact that many Democrats rode a wave of union support to Washington.
Waning political power is only one point of vulnerability. The nature of the American work force and the American workplace is changing, not to the advantage of organized labor. The unions may support such causes as family leave and universal health insurance coverage, but these issues transcend traditional union-management issues. So too, with such gritty issues as retraining workers cast off from dying industries and educating today's children for the job skills of tomorrow.