Sara Horowitz
Founder, Freelancers Union

Sara Horowitz Envisions The Future Of Unions

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The labor expert sees a bold new role for unions in the new economy.

Sara Horowitz

Sara Horowitz founded Working Today - Freelancers Union in 1995 to represent the needs and concerns of the growing independent workforce. In recognition of her efforts to create a self-sustaining organization of flexible workers, Horowitz was awarded a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1999. Before founding Freelancers Union, Horowitz worked as a labor attorney, a union organizer, and a public defender in New York City. A lifelong resident of Brooklyn, she holds degrees from Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations, SUNY Buffalo Law School, and Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Horowitz is a trustee of the Nathan Cummings Foundation and is on the board of the Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation.

Question: What is the role for unions in the new economy?

Sara Horowitz: Well, I have a long view of unionism, not just here but in general.  You know, next week or two is Passover.  Passover is really… You know, it’s the… It’s a Jewish celebration but it’s really the story of the first labor action where Moses goes and tells the boss that the way the materials are, for the bricks, is impossible for the workers and the working conditions are terrible and the boss says, actually, thanks for telling me, not only I’m going to not solve your problem, I’m going to make it worse.  The workers rebel, they go… The first strike is exodus.  If you think about that, we had mutual aid societies, guilds, we had craft unions, industrial unions, and, now, new forms of unionism.  So… You know, I’m not so pessimistic on unions.  I think that unions will evolve and… But I think that they do have to evolve.  And we have to have new kinds of movements that don’t replace old movements but they sit side-by-side so… You know, I think that… As a third of the workforce is independent, we’re going to be needing new forms of unionization that don’t rely on the old collective bargaining model.  Which isn’t to say the collective bargaining model is a bad model, it’s just when people go from project to project, you can’t have that, you have to think about new strategies and those new strategies have different business models.  So, I think that’s going to be important.  And that’s where, I think, the kind of interesting discussion is. Well, I think it’s really interesting that the government is, now, owning large chunks of the banking industry.  And the non-profit sector has a lot of revenue generating activities in it.  And as Bill Drayton, who’s the founder of Ashoka, talks about… there’s a great movement to… that they’re moving together in an interesting way.  And clearly… You know, the only reason why the non-profit sector and the for profit sector are different sectors is because the IRS puts them in 2 different categories.  And so, it’s really just about a set of activities.  And I think that what we’re coming to, you know, this moment in time, marks the realization that this terribly fast capitalism is not sustainable.  That it has its place when it’s a very small percentage of the economy but it really doesn’t have a place for the majority of the kinds of things that we need to see.  Small businesses can’t function at those rates of returns and most large businesses can’t either.  And, I think, unions need to realize that when they bring their workforce together, they have a lot of power in the market and that they can use market strategies.  And I think, often, people in the labor movement are so dislike markets that they lose opportunities where they… where they shouldn’t lose them and that they are speaking to an ideology over the facts on the ground.  And, you know, just as I think the business people have to start realizing, they’re not going to get super rich like they did before.  Those days are over, at least, in our lifetime.  I think so too, labor people have to get over that it’s just a collective bargaining model and you get as much as you can from the boss and you move on and that there are strategies within.  I think what’s going to be very interesting is the next stage of capitalism.  It’s going to be very new and different than the last 50 years, for sure.



Question: Does labor hamper industrial growth?

Sara Horowitz: I think that there are people who feel that when an industry has unions, it becomes difficult for management to do the… to react nimbly.  And I think that that’s something that, I think, is a more interesting thing about how businesses can function.  And in some ways, it’s about how do you bring unions in as an important constituency to start talking about different issues and not just this antagonistic way of collective bargaining as the only thing.  And that, I think, is important.  And I do think that, you know, business should run business and union should run unions.  And I… I think that it is important to let a business be nimble.  I don’t think… I think it makes no sense to prevent that.