Category Archives: Future of Unions

House of Labor Needs Repairs, Not Just New Roommates

Source: Steve Early, Labor Notes, September 16, 2013

…Who wouldn’t like to believe that a more exciting convention format prefigures a turning point for labor? Unfortunately, greater inclusiveness, closer ties with non-labor allies, and the adoption of pleasingly progressive resolutions only begin to address the real organizing challenges facing labor, whether “alt” or traditional.

Missing from the festivities were strategies for defending and re-energizing labor’s existing members.

Given the extreme attacks both union and non-union workers are suffering, the convention’s heavy emphasis on conventional political strategies and growth through diluted forms of membership was not “transformative” enough to meet the challenges of the day….

The State of the Unions 2013: A Profile of Organized Labor in New York City, New York State, and the United States

Source: Ruth Milkman, Stephanie Luce, Joseph S. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies and the Center for Urban Research, CUNY, September 2013

The fourth in an annual series of reports on trends in organized labor, the 2013 report highlights its declining presence in the private sector in New York City and the growing gap between private and public sector unionization rates. Among the report’s most interesting findings is the distinctive profile of New York City’s union members, who are more likely to be Black, Latino, or female than is the case elsewhere in the nation. Although the popular stereotype of a union member is a white male wearing a hardhat, in the city only 18 percent of all union members are white men. Fully 60 percent of union members in New York City are Black or Latino, much higher than in the rest of New York State, where the figure is only 16 percent, and also in contrast to the nation as a whole, where it is 27 percent.

Thank You, Strike Again

Source: David Moberg, In These Times, July 25, 2013

How low-wage service workers are changing the face of labor….Last year, Crawford joined the “Fight for 15” campaign, a labor and community-supported project that aims to improve conditions for workers in Chicago’s central business districts. The campaign demands a $15 minimum wage and the right to form unions without interference from management…. These strikes have been the defining tactic of a new movement of low-wage service workers that has gained momentum in 2013. Small groups of workers have launched sudden strikes against big chains such as Wal-Mart and McDonald’s, as well as small employers such as car washes, laundries and taxi companies. In many cases, only a minority of employees were involved, sometimes from multiple workplaces. The strikes have typically been sudden and short, lasting just long enough to broadcast their message. A few campaigns have won union recognition; more have won small victories like a pay raise or a scheduling change. But taken together, the campaigns have surprised experts like Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell University, who says she could not have imagined such an upsurge even two years ago….

Unions, Money, and Mergers

Source: Carl Proper, Talking Union blog, July 2, 2013

Money matters to unions. Financial resources are hard to obtain, easy to waste, and essential to union survival. Historically, the effort to accrue or protect a financial foundation has also caused many internal union conflicts, mergers and failures. …This history recounts a struggle between two great and historically progressive unions over leadership, organizing jurisdiction (itself a form of property rights), and inherited financial resources. I focus here on financial issues, not because they were the core of the struggle, but because they are seldom discussed, and critical to labor’s history and future. I will also focus on the roles of labor leaders, who are the financial decision-makers, rather than on the rank and file. In later chapters, questions of leadership character, membership involvement and exploitation, and jurisdictional issues will get their due. One conclusion that I would reach, however, is that open discussion of money matters with union members produces better decisions than haste and secrecy…. I would urge unionists who believe the next revolution will be built without wealth to learn from our experience. The kinds of investments in real estate or banks made by the ILGWU or the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA) initiated decades ago, may now be more essential than ever. They can help unions withstand the loss of dues income in our day, and enable activities of community allies with little or no income base.

Workplace representatives: strategic actors of union renewal?

Source: Gregor Murray, Christian Lévesque, Christian Dufour, Adelheid Hege, Industrial Relations Journal, Volume 44, Issue 4, July 2013
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Workplace representatives (shop stewards) provide insight into union transformations. This article explores the renewed research interest in terms of the representativeness of unionism and of workplace representatives, the complexity of the sites of representation and employer strategies, the search for new references and the centrality of workplace representatives in union renewal strategies.

Silicon Valley’s Anti-Unionism, Now With a Side of Class Warfare

Source: Kevin Roose, New York Magazine, July 11, 2013

..But the shock at anti-union sentiments expressed by the tech elite, mine included, obscured one salient point: Namely, Silicon Valley’s hostility to organized labor is nothing new…

…The mystique of the entrepreneur, more than overt union-busting techniques of corporate managers, is the reason why Silicon Valley’s tech industry has never had a successful large-scale labor organization, according to Berlin. Simply put: Tech workers have been so coddled that they simply don’t feel the need to unionize….

…Anti-union views aren’t unique to Silicon Valley gazillionaires — they’re shared by free-market boosters everywhere. But comments like Lacy’s and White’s in response to the BART strike revealed something new. Namely, portions of the tech community are not only observing the destruction of unions as a long-term sociopolitical trend, but actively cheering it on as an example of an intellectual “maker” class beating out working-class “takers.” The old Silicon Valley anti-unionism came from narrow corporate self-interest; the new seems more broadly ideological.

“The notion that ‘These workers are expendable’ is a fundamentally different attitude toward workers than ‘Let’s make sure they have these benefits so they don’t want to unionize,'” Berlin said.

In other words, it’s not Silicon Valley’s rejection of organized labor that should surprise us. It’s the class hostility that now often rides along with it….
Related:
BART strike reveals tech, transit worker divide
Krissy Clark, Marketplace Morning Report, July 4, 2013

In Their Own Words: Insurgents and the Limits of Reform in Organized Labor

Source: Jane LaTour, WorkingUSA, Volume 16, Issue 2, June 2013
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
The legacy of union labor lawyer and rank-and-file democracy advocate Burton H. Hall carries on, now more than 20 years after his death. Hall represented dissidents who sought to expand representation and democracy in their unions. To break the bureaucratic stranglehold over unions, Hall advocated and promoted efforts at insurgency and insurrection. While we assess the last 22 years of neoliberal and financial reforms that have broken working class unions, Hall’s advocacy reminds us that unions’ own failure to promote rank-and-file activism and democracy is also responsible for the decline in unions. Active and militant workers struggling within working class organizations is essential to resist the capitalist assault that has eroded wage standards, working class, and communities.

Next Up: The Promise of AFL–CIO-Affiliated Young Worker Groups

Source: Monica Bielski Boris, Jeff Grabelsky, Ken Margolies and David Reynolds, WorkingUSA, Volume 16, Issue 2, June 2013
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
In recent years, the American Federation of Labor–Congress of Industrial Organization (AFL–CIO) has attempted to spur and support the development of young worker organizations as a way of engaging more young people in the labor movement. One result has been the growth of young worker groups affiliated with local AFL–CIO bodies. This article summarizes the findings of our team of researchers who worked with the AFL–CIO to document and evaluate the most developed of these new young worker organizations. We explore the activities and character of these groups, the distinct contribution that they make to revive the American labor movement, and the challenges they face in continuing to grow and to spur similar groups across the country.

Beyond the Right: Anti-Unionism and Reform

Source: Chad Pearson, LaborOnline blog, June 11, 2013

A clear-eyed assessment of current attacks against organized labor reveal that the “right”—the Republican Party and its electoral, financial, and ideological supporters—is not the exclusive source of labor’s problem. This is certainly the case in the public sector. School teachers throughout the nation, for instance, are currently facing numerous challenges from politicians, and Democrats have been especially problematic….

…We can also point to examples of anti-union activities on the part of “progressive” managers in the private sector. While a number of scholars have deepened our understanding of the high level of exploitation and intimidation experienced by Wal-Mart workers, we do not need to look far to find evidence of worker abuse and union-busting at some of the nation’s more civilized workplaces, including Costco and Whole Foods. Indeed, managers at these companies, including individuals who have strongly endorsed Democratic Party politicians, have repeatedly demonstrated a mastery of the craft of union-avoidance. In 2009, both Costco and Whole Foods lobbied against the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)…