Category Archives: Future of Unions

An Opportunity Not Taken . . . Yet: U.S. Labor And The Current Economic Crisis

Source: Chris Tilly, WorkingUSA, Volume 14, Issue 1, March 2011
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Two years since the financial crash of 2008 and nearly three years into the recession, what is perhaps most noteworthy about U.S. trade unions’ response to the economic crisis is how limited and unfocused it is. To date, the main reactions of the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations and Change to Win to the crisis have been to lobby the U.S. federal government for new policies, such as those oriented to job creation; there has been little by way of member mobilization. Though this may at first seem surprising, in fact it reflects both long-term weaknesses in the labor movement and new difficulties imposed by the conjuncture. However, despite these obstacles, the U.S. labor movement has developed new and innovative strategies in recent decades, which hold out hope for a stronger reaction in months and years to come.

The Future of Public Employee Unions

Source: WHYY, Radio Times, February 28th, 2011

For more than a week, public employee union members have been protesting in Wisconsin over Republican Governor Scott Walker’s budget bill that would increase their benefit contribution and cut their collective bargaining power. The labor protests have spread to other states like Indiana, Iowa, and Ohio and mobilized union supporters and opponents around the nation. This hour, we’ll look at the standoff in Wisconsin and the national implications. Our guests are Nancy MacLean, an historian of labor and public policy at Duke University and Chris Edwards, the director of tax policy studies at The Cato Institute.

Will U.S. Labour Challenge Austerity?

Source: Brian Tierney, Global Research, January 12, 2011

Across the U.S., working-class people are struggling, scraping together meager sums in order to get by. In state and local governments throughout the country, workers are watching public services slashed in the name of balanced budgets. Trillions of dollars have been doled out to Wall Street titans and big banks. And while the epidemic of home foreclosures and cuts to public services rages on, corporate profits are soaring to record highs, and banks are sitting on hordes of accumulated capital. Still, we are told, there simply isn’t enough money to help the millions struggling in these economic hard times….

…But Democrats have also joined the efforts to demonize public workers. The campaign of Democratic Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo of New York included calls for public-sector unions to grant massive concessions in order to ease the state’s budget gap. The incoming governor is rallying business-lobbying groups to his side to launch a $10-million anti-union effort against worker in the public sector.

Meanwhile, Obama’s deficit commission, with its crosshairs trained on Social Security and other “entitlements,” has set the terms for congressional debate on reducing the nation’s deficit through punishing austerity measures.

So it’s fair to ask how far to the right Obama and the Democratic Party will shift before the labour movement can no longer support them. How much longer can labour leaders continue to justify to their membership the massive sums of money spent to prop up Democrats, whose allegiance to corporate welfare surpasses whatever expressed interests they share with working-class people?

Strategy for Labor Revisited

Source: Samuel Estreicher, NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 10-89, December 15, 2010

From the abstract:
What follows is an unofficial transcript of an off-the-record conversation among three of the labor movement’s leading strategists. The meeting was convened by C, or “cooperationist,” who had been for over ten years the president of a local union, part of a major industrial union, representing 3,000 employees who had been hired to staff a new manufacturing plant in a Southern town (“Newplant”). Newplant had been widely touted as a breakthrough in U.S. labor-management relations because it was consciously designed to promote greater participation of production and maintenance workers in business decisions. In bitterly contested local elections last year, C was voted out of office and now serves in a staff capacity at the AFL-CIO. A, or “adversarialist,” a longstanding friend of C, is the research director of another industrial union. A was very active in the Students for A Democratic Society in the 1960s, and after graduating from Antioch College began his career as a labor organizer, working for a succession of unions that had been active in the McGovern-Kucinich wing of the Democratic Party. S, or “stay the course,” is the highly respected chief of staff for a national union representing government workers. Section headings and citations are supplied by the editor and do not appear in the original transcript.

Making Unions Matter Again

Source: Jane McAlevey, Nation, December 2, 2010

For the first time in recent memory, most voices in the social change movement, including progressively inclined unions, are having a hard time spinning victory out of massive electoral defeat. Could it also be that this time we will finally learn the right lessons?

Given the constraints of our two-party system and the differences between the parties on workers’ issues, it makes sense for unions to endorse Democrats and for union members to pull the Democratic lever on election day. But for too long, union leaders have tethered themselves to the Democratic Party on fundamental questions of strategy. Ironically, when the Democrats take control of the White House the problem is exacerbated, as unions often mistake access for power. The leaders of the Democratic Party don’t wake up in the morning thinking about how to expand social benefits to workers or the poor. And they certainly don’t wake up and think about how to make unions stronger.

The Work Stoppage: A Dinosaur or a Lady in Waiting?

Source: Willis J. Norlund, Labor Law Journal, Vol. 61 no. 3, Fall 2010
(subscription required)

While some observers of our Nation’s history would place greater emphasis on the role of the entrepreneur and capital as explaining the fabulous character of our economic growth, at the core of economic growth is the American worker. There is room for entrepreneurial talent and the creation of capital resources in the equation, but without a strong, highly productive labor force, those two factors would have little relevance. A third element that is frequently ignored or denigrated is the labor union. In fact, many would argue that labor unions have impeded economic growth, not expanded it. This article is not focused on this debate directly, because the arguments against unions are well known. There are, of course, arguments that support union formation and that unions enhance productivity and economic growth, while couched in economic terms, the real basis for most of the arguments on either side are philosophical, not economic. If a person dislikes unions, they can find numerous reasons for doing so and if one supports unions there are equally as many arguments….

…This study suggests that strikes make a difference; that workers have no power without the strike tool; that a long-term fully functioning capitalistic economy required that all participants benefit from a fair distribution of income; that strikes are rare today, not because all of the problems in the workplace have been resolved, but because government and industry have marginalized American unions and taken the right to strike away from unions and the American worker. It may be the appropriate time for American workers to reconsider the formation of a labor party.

When Do U.S. Workers First Experience Unionization? Implications for Revitalizing the Labor Movement

Source: John W. Budd, Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society, Volume 49, Issue 2, April 2010
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Debates over revitalizing the U.S. labor movement often overlook when workers are first unionized. This article analyzes the frequency and nature of workers’ first unionized jobs by tracking a cohort of individuals from age 15/16 to 40/41. Though workers are most likely to be unionized when they are in their forties, this article shows that surprising numbers of individuals first encounter unionization in their jobs at a much younger age. These results highlight the importance of experiential union membership models as well as life-cycle union representation strategies that recognize the young age at which many workers are first unionized.

Betting on the Employee Free Choice Act: Is Labor Law to Blame for Labor’s Current Ills and Will Labor Law Reform Solve the Problem?

Source: Eric Arnesen, Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas, Vol. 7 no. 3, Fall 2010
(subscription required)

This issue’s Up for Debate section centers on EFCA and labor law’s contribution to the current crisis of American labor. Putting aside the issue of the likelihood of EFCA’s passage, Labor asked four scholars of American labor to weigh in on two related questions. First, just how much is labor law to blame for the dire straits in which the labor movement now finds itself? And second, will labor law reform — should EFCA survive congressional opposition and eventually pass — redress the current imbalance on the union organizing front? Although the perspectives offered in these pages will not be the final word on a complex and depressing subject, these contributions cast valuable light on the historical dimensions of the historical and political dimensions of the current legislative battle.

Articles include:
EFCA, Alas, Is Not the Answer – Roy J. Adams

Betting on New Forms of Worker Organization – Dorothy Sue Cobble

Moving Past EFCA – David Brody

Despite EFCA’s Limitations, Its Demise Is a Profound Defeat for U.S. Labor – Nelson Lichtenstein

Unions & the Great Recession: Is Transnationalism the Answer?

Source: Michael J. Zimmer, Loyola University Chicago School of Law Research Paper No. 2010-011

From the abstract:
For at least 30 years, the union movement at a worldwide level has been generally downward. That trend has accelerated during the Great Recession. During that same period, economic inequality has grown significantly. The question this paper raises is whether the union movement can be proactively involved helping the recovery from the Great Recession with a stronger, more equal economic order. The public policy basis for unionism – that labor is not a commodity and that economic inequality is best redressed through freedom of association and collective bargaining – is well established in U.S. and international labor law. That public policy, however, is juxtaposed with the prevailing social, political and economic policy – neoliberalism favoring free markets including labor markets. As economic activity has become increasingly globalized, enterprise has been able to jump the barriers that had been set by national laws and national economies to organize operations around the world to take advantage of local conditions, including labor costs and standards. Thus, more and more employers can take advantage of a global labor market to find conditions most favorable to their businesses. An increasingly global labor market has significant impact on national and local labor markets. Labor unions are generally still trapped within the nations of their organization. Limited to operating in national labor markets, unions have lost the strength and breadth necessary to establish labor monopolies that operate to take labor costs out of price competition. The answer to the question this article poses is that the future of the labor movement may depend on the ability of unionism to reach across borders and operate transnationally. Some unions have taken some steps to go transnational, but a fundamental redirection toward transnationalism may be necessary if the union movement is to have a positive impact as the global economy recovers from the Great Recession