Category Archives: Future of Unions

Teachers on the Offensive: A Strategy for Transforming the Educational Reform Debate

Source: Amy B. Dean, New Labor Forum, Vol. 22 no. 3, September 2013
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Public school teachers are under attack. The assault being waged by the so-called education reform movement—embraced by both millionaire conservatives and neoliberal Democrats—is more than a skirmish affecting a single profession. Rather, it is a struggle with great consequences for the survival of the U.S. labor movement, the future of the middle class, and the fate of American democracy—a system that relies on quality public schools for its sustenance….

…The bigger issue for teachers is the need to showcase their vision. Whatever tactics they embrace at a given time, the goals must be clear. And, to take the offensive in the education debate, three goals are essential: first, repositioning teachers as champions of quality public education; second, reclaiming the right of teachers to define and maintain standards of excellence for their profession; and third, breaking with the traditional labor movement approach to politics, both locally and nationally.

The point in exploring a strategy built around these three objectives is not to second-guess those who have persevered amid austerity budgets and well-funded ideological campaigns against teachers’ unions. Rather, it is to hold up some of the best practices from around the country—cases in which unions have been able to reshape discussions of both classroom standards and public policy—and to suggest that they can be brought together as a comprehensive framework for guiding action. …

The Light and the Dark: Taking Stock of the Year in Labor

Source: Ari Paul, New Labor Forum, Vol. 22 no. 3, September 2013
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…It is all but certain that traditional labor is in store for more pain, whether it comes in the form of new antiunion legislation at the state level or simply a widening of the gap between what corporations and unions can spend to influence electoral politics.

But the lessons from the fast food strikers or the Chicago teachers is not so much how a union can campaign against an employer, but how it can promote broad political demands for this economic landscape, demands that may include universal basic income or real health care reform, as well as demands to restrain the financial sector, like reviving the Glass–Steagall Act, which would separate commercial and investment banking. It should not be that only marginal institutions like the Industrial Workers of the World are campaigning for a shortened workday, something that has not happened in more than a century.

Standing in the way of this is an unwillingness to change and the provincialism of specialized unions. At a meeting of labor journalists in New York this spring, in response to the question of why unions have been unable to fund new think tanks or media organizations to counter antiunion institutions, several people responded that labor leaders “don’t speak the same language”; they are constrained by serving their members directly and thus unable to settle on any kind of grander agenda. The building trades, retail, and public sectors are just too different from each other, the logic went, so they are unable to put aside differences and collaborate on long-term projects.

To put it bluntly, this is nothing more than the narcissism of small differences. The reluctance of older labor leaders, lulled into complacency by their hefty salaries and access to Democratic Party officials, to break from tradition will only make next year’s report card for labor more dismal than this year’s. Or, hopefully, the energy and imagination on display in Chicago and elsewhere spreads. …

Public Sector Unionism Under Assault: How to Combat the Scapegoating of Organized Labor

Source: Joseph A. McCartin, New Labor Forum, Vol. 22 no. 3, September 2013
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…The antiunion victories in Wisconsin and Michigan have lent momentum to efforts in other states where Republicans control the governorship and the statehouse. Not content with the range of antilabor legislation already on the books in their state, North Carolina’s Republican legislators recently moved toward adding a “right-to-work” provision to the state constitution. Kansas’ legislators, meanwhile, have been working to eliminate dues check-off for teachers unions. “Right to work” advocates continue to advance their cause in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and other states. Meanwhile, federal “sequestration” has further weakened public sector unions by causing layoffs and furloughs. Altogether, these initiatives suggest a dark future for public sector labor.

We have seemingly reached a watershed moment when two conclusions appear to be indisputable. First, a vibrant public sector labor movement will not be sustainable indefinitely with less than 7 percent of private sector workers organized. The fate of government workers’ unions increasingly hinges on whether labor can engineer a private sector union revival. Second, if public sector unions do not start defending themselves more effectively than they did in Wisconsin and Michigan, they will likely suffer more such defeats in the years ahead. …

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
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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