Posts Tagged 'politics'

Needed: A New Unionism

In Mother Jones (of all places), Kevin Drum has posted an interesting argument about the need for private sector unions to concentrate on wages and benefits rather than work rules.  This alone is an example of pretty creative thinking for laborites, but it still misses the mark.

Unionism in the private sector is not just down; it’s almost out. Membership has been falling steadily for half a century and is now circling the drain, with membership at 6.9% of the workforce. In 1953 it was 36%.

This disastrous decline has been partly masked by the simultaneous growth of unions in the public sector. While private unions sank, public ones climbed from near-zero in the 1950’s to around 36%, where it has held steady since 1980. Decline has also been disguised by the growing political power of the union movement, as its electoral organizing skills have improved even as membership organizing has languished.

Why the decline? Why have private sector workers stopped joining unions?

The unions have a ready answer: it’s too hard to organize because employers cheat. They scare and intimidate and fire workers who try to organize.

Undoubtedly true, in too many cases. Union-busting consultants have a bag of anti-union tricks that can certainly make certification elections hard to win.

But that just begs the question. Why only now? Didn’t employers know these tricks during all the years unions were growing? Didn’t Henry Ford know how to intimidate workers? Didn’t the steel companies? Didn’t construction firms? Coal-mine operators? The Mohawk Valley Formula for union-busting dates back to 1936.

So why are so many unions now stymied by employer opposition?

Other possible explanations for union decline abound. Many heavily unionized manufacturing and textile industries have moved jobs overseas in search of lower costs.

But other industries that are largely homebound have not been organized in their place.

And in fact many newer industries (high-tech, for instance) are often fairly good employers, offering decent benefits and workplace flexibility in a conscious effort to attract a happy, productive, and non-union workforce.

Private sector unions may be short of members, but not of excuses.

Continue reading ‘Needed: A New Unionism’

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The Inevitable Wisconsin

by Hans Moleman

In the words of Young Frankenstein’s Inspector Kemp, “A riot iss an ogly think.”  So is the Wisconsin shootout; ugly – but inevitable.

The unions had to be expecting a tough time with their new Governor Walker. No doubt they anticipated a difficult negotiation – “hard bargaining”, as the governor cut labor costs to balance the budget.  Instead, they found themselves facing political forces who actually intend to put an end to them.

Unions have always decried every effort to rollback labor costs or union power as “union-busting.” Now their past rhetorical excesses have caught up with them, as they confront the real thing.  (Cf “Wolf, the Boy who Cried…”)

At first it looked as if Walker was indeed bargaining hard.  Rolling back pensions, increasing employee contributions, and making labor accept it as a compromise by agreeing not to end collective bargaining outright.  And there would be the peace, as Don Barzini would say.

Well, gentlemen may cry “peace, peace,” but there is no peace.  Before it could be seen if Walker was a “let’s make a deal” type, Democrats abandoned the state and the unions seized the Capitol to bully the governor and Republicans. They in turn found a parliamentary bypass and passed the bill to strip bargaining rights. The budget, with its real benefit reductions and budget cuts is still pending.  But the unions appear to have used up most of their ammo, so their hopes cannot be high.

The fight was foreordained, if not in Wisconsin then somewhere nearby.  Since the 1930’s, unions have struggled over their relation to politics, politicians, and especially political parties.  Early on it came down to a simple question: whether to seek friends in both parties, or to throw in wholeheartedly with the Democrats. Continue reading ‘The Inevitable Wisconsin’


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