Category Archives: Labor History

Reconstructing resistance and renewal in public service unionism in the twenty-first century: lessons from a century of war and peace

Source: Whyeda Gill-McLure & Christer Thörnqvist, Labor History, Volume 59, 2018
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
This special issue uses the occasion of the centenary of the Whitley Commission Reports to illuminate the contemporary crisis in public service industrial relations from a historical perspective. In all six countries studied—Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and the USA—public service employment is labour intensive and quantitatively significant in the overall economy. Public services have also been major targets of neoliberal reforms, starting in the UK and the USA at the turn of the 1980s and in the other countries about a decade later. In addition, the relatively high union density and the political dimension of public services and public union strategies have been major targets of new public management and more latterly austerity. However, the regressive period has had a differential impact in different countries. In the liberal market economies of the UK and the USA, the neoliberal turn has destabilised traditional patterns of public sector industrial relations to greatest effect. While in the more coordinated market economies, traditional arrangements and values have been more resistant to austerity and neoliberal reforms. We attempt to shed light on these differential impacts through a critical analysis of the historical evolution of public sector industrial relations in each country.

Related:
100 years of Whitleyism: a century of public service industrial relations in Europe and the US
Source: Guest Editors – Whyeda Gill-McLure and Christer Thörnqvist, Labor History, Volume 59, 2018
(subscription required)

How So-Called “Right to Work” Laws Aim to Silence Working People

Source: Amy Traub, Dēmos, 2017

From the introduction:
In America, working people have the freedom to band together with their co-workers to negotiate for a fair return on our work. We have the freedom to act together so can we speak with a more powerful voice. We have the freedom to join and form unions. Yet today, powerful interests want to take away that freedom. Corporate lobbyists have pushed federal and state-level policies deceptively named “Right to Work” laws that strip away the freedom to negotiate for a fair return on our work. These laws are designed to drain workers’ collective resources by requiring unions to provide representation to people who make no contribution to sustain the union. In essence, so-called “right to work” laws aim to silence working Americans, which causes their wages and working conditions to deteriorate, making it more difficult to sustain a family. Economists find that in states that have adopted these laws, the typical full-time worker is paid $1,500 a year less than their counterpart in a state that has not undermined workers’ rights.

This Demos Explainer clarifies what misleadingly named “right to work” laws do, how they silence workers’ collective voice, and what their impact has been in states that adopt them. We also explore the roots of this anti-worker policy in efforts to cut wages and solidify racial divisions among workers in the Jim Crow South. Today, as “right to work” laws are promoted in a growing number of states and in the U.S. Congress, Demos aims to ensure that elected leaders, the media, and ordinary Americans understand the true nature of this policy.

Can Labor Still Use the Wagner Act?

Source: Joseph A. McCartin, Dissent, Fall 2017

…. Eighty years after the Wagner Act’s validation, the triumph of collective bargaining in mass production industries seems as ancient as Exodus, and Cox’s optimism as quaint as greeting card poetry. Whereas the industrial Midwest once throbbed with demands for industrial democracy, today its depleted cities continue to bleed jobs and its hinterlands struggle with rampant opioid addiction. Flint, once home to a mobilized working class capable of taming General Motors, is today a desperately impoverished city lacking in decent jobs, whose residents continue to suffer from the aftermath of lead poisoning. Whereas sit-down strikers were protected by Governor Frank Murphy in 1937, today’s Michigan is a “right-to-work” state presided over by Governor Rick Snyder, a venture capitalist whose efforts to wrest local control away from distressed communities led directly to Flint’s poisoning. Little remains of the industrial union movement born in 1937, as private-sector union membership rates today dip toward 6 percent.

Nor is there reason to suppose the Supreme Court will help matters as it did eighty years ago. Today’s Court instead seems bent on interring the last legal vestiges of the New Deal labor order. In the case of Janus v. AFSCME, which the Court will decide in the coming term, the right of public-sector unions to collect “agency fees” from the workers they represent is being challenged. Opponents argue that government workers’ unions are merely political vehicles, and therefore granting them the right to collect agency fees infringes on the rights of workers who might not share the politics of the union that represents them. The case threatens to overturn a forty-year-old precedent, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977), which recognized the unions’ rights to collect such fees in the interest of orderly workplace governance wherever state law allowed the practice…..

For Liberty, Justice, and Equality: Unions Making History in America

Source: University of Maryland Libraries, 2017

Labor unions were created by workers to protect their rights. Less recognized is labor’s role in advancing civil liberties, social justice, and economic equality for all Americans.

The labor movement has always supported the quest for economic justice, including demands for an eight-hour workday and a living wage. From the beginning of the 20th century, organized labor has championed religious freedom and the evolving demands of the environmental movement. By the end of the century, the labor movement consistently promoted international human rights.

In contrast, people of color, women, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community faced exclusion, segregation, and discrimination by unions. These groups created their own organizations, fought for inclusion, and pushed the labor movement to broaden its central principles of liberty, justice, and equality. In the 21st century, organized labor has become an advocate for the rights of all these communities, including anti-discrimination and civil rights legislation, marriage equality, and protections for undocumented workers.

This exhibit explores the American labor movement’s contributions to social progress using documents, images, videos, and artifacts from the Labor History Collections within the Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Maryland Libraries.

Iowa Labor Collection To Digitize 1,200 Oral Histories

Source: Sarah Boden, Iowa Public Radio, September 4, 2017

More than 1,200 interviews documenting Iowa’s labor history are set to be digitized and will be available online sometime next year, making the Iowa Labor Collection one of the most comprehensive labor oral history achieves in the nation. Coal mining, meat packing, and tire and rubber manufacturing were all important industries that drew people away from farms and into Iowa’s cities during the 20th century. That’s according to Mary Bennett, the special collections coordinator at the State historical Society of Iowa, who says digitizing these interviews about Iowa’s union and labor history is crucial, since reel-to-reel tapes tend to deteriorate….
Related:
Iowa Labor History Oral Project

The Lost Art of Being Anti-Fascist: Another Reason Why We Need a Labor Movement

Source: Sharon Block, On Labor blog, August 30, 2017

….The question that many of us have been asking since Election Day — “how did we get here” — has taken on greater urgency in the wake of Charlottesville. There has been much thoughtful writing and commenting on the root causes of this now evident phenomenon. I recently came across an article by Senator Robert Wagner, primary sponsor of our bedrock federal labor law, the National Labor Relations Act, that got me thinking about an unexplored possible contributing factor – whether there is a plausible relationship between the decline in the labor movement and the vulnerability of our population to fascism.

The framework of this argument was articulated by Senator Wagner in a May 1937 article in the New York Times Magazine. The NLRA had passed in July 1935 but questions about its future as a result of challenges to its constitutionality lingered until April 1937. As Senator Wagner was witnessing the rise of a fascist power, he described his ideal industrial state. One attribute of his ideal vision was a strong labor movement, bringing the experience of collective bargaining to the American working class.

In addition to the many economic arguments that Wagner made in defense of the NLRA was his argument that the process of being a member of a union and engaging in collective bargaining in the workplace gave Americans the experience of participating in a democratic process in a way that had become remote in their political life. He lamented that politics had been “impersonalized” and that the nature of the nation’s problems – too big, complex and fast-moving – made it difficult for ordinary Americans to get involved in addressing them. Thus, in his view, the workplace became the more likely venue for the “expression of the democratic impulse”…..

Labor Day 2017: Sept. 4

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Facts for Features, August 9, 2017

The first observance of Labor Day was likely on Sept. 5, 1882, when some 10,000 workers assembled in New York City for a parade. The parade inspired similar events across the country, and by 1894 more than half the states were observing a “workingmen’s holiday” on one day or another. Later that year, with Congress passing legislation and President Grover Cleveland signing the bill on June 29, the first Monday in September was designated “Labor Day.” This national holiday is a creation of the labor movement in the late 19th century and pays tribute to the social and economic achievements of workers in America.

August 28, 1963: March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

A selection of articles and documents about the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

Official Program for the March on Washington (1963)
Source: National Archives

March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom
Source: King Encyclopedia, Stanford University, The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute
Audio – I Have a Dream, Address at March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom – August 28, 1963

 King delivers his

On 28 August 1963, more than 200,000 demonstrators took part in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in the nation’s capital. The march was successful in pressuring the administration of John F. Kennedy to initiate a strong federal civil rights bill in Congress. During this event, Martin Luther King delivered his memorable ‘‘I Have a Dream’’ speech. The 1963 March on Washington had several precedents. In the summer of 1941 A. Philip Randolph, founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, called for a march on Washington, D. C., to draw attention to the exclusion of African Americans from positions in the national defense industry. This job market had proven to be closed to blacks, despite the fact that it was growing to supply materials to the Allies in World War II. The threat of 100,000 marchers in Washington, D.C., pushed President Franklin D. Roosevelt to issue Executive Order 8802, which mandated the formation of the Fair Employment Practices Commission to investigate racial discrimination charges against defense firms. In response, Randolph cancelled plans for the march. ….

August 28, 1963: The March on Washington
Source: Richard Kreitner, The Nation, August 28, 2015

“After the civil-rights issue has been won, as it will be—that is, after all legally sanctioned forms of Jim Crow discrimination have been removed—what then?” Conservatives love to invoke a single line from Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech at the Lincoln Memorial fifty-two years ago today as evidence of the civil rights leader’s commitment to all things red, white and blue—“the Great American Barbecue,” as The Nation’s editors put it in their editorial about the March on Washington—but even back in 1963 it was obviously to some (to the editors of The Nation, say) that the implications of the movement were a lot more radical. This was the great theme of the magazine’s coverage of King in the 1960s and of King’s writings for the magazine: that securing civil rights might be possible, but achieving economic justice for all would be much, much harder.

Photos: 18 historic images from the 1963 March on Washington
Ann Arbor Miller, Minnesota Public Radio, August 27, 2015

Witnesses to History, 50 Years Later
Source: New York Times, August 23, 2013

Buses as far as the eye could see. Fears of violence melting away into a powerful feeling of togetherness. A transcendent speech. Strangers hugging and tears of hope. Fifty years after the March on Washington, the mass protest that helped energize some of the most critical social legislation in the nation’s history, The New York Times asked readers who attended to recall their experiences and reflect on the legacy of that day. Out of hundreds of submissions, we present a selection of stories and anecdotes, edited and condensed from online submissions and follow-up interviews….

Commemorating 52nd Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom
Source: Clarence B. Jones Huffington Post, August 22, 2015

During the past two weeks two great persons in the struggle against injustice, both of whom I knew, passed away. First was Julian Bond at the age of 75, the other was Louis Stokes, a 15-term former congressman from OH. He died at the age of 90. The death of these two social justice and political warriors were on my mind as I realized that next week our will be the 52nd anniversary of the August 28th, 1963 March On Washington For Jobs and Freedom. (Most persons associate their memory of The March with the soaring oratory of Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.) The Black Lives Matter Movement, in response to the repetitive shootings of black men by police, and the failure in most instances, of any prosecutorial accountability, ISIS, illegal immigration, income inequality, mass incarceration, States’ legislative efforts to limit voting rights, continued deaths from Black gangs’ gun violence, and the media’s fixation on the Dem and Repub. primaries, can temporarily overwhelm ANY thoughtful reflection about that great assemblage of Black and white persons at the Lincoln Memorial, Wednesday afternoon,52 years ago….

Sounds of the Civil Rights Movement
Source: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 2013

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings celebrates the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom with this playlist of 1960s civil rights material. Composed of seminal recordings, this playlist highlights the important role that music played in uniting, energizing, expressing, and sustaining momentum among participants in the African American civil rights movement.

The Forgotten Radical History of the March on Washington
Source: William P. Jones, Dissent Magazine, Spring 2013

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which occurred fifty years ago this August 28, remains one of the most successful mobilizations ever created by the American Left. Organized by a coalition of trade unionists, civil rights activists, and feminists—most of them African American and nearly all of them socialists—the protest drew nearly a quarter-million people to the nation’s capital. Composed primarily of factory workers, domestic servants, public employees, and farm workers, it was the largest demonstration—and, some argued, the largest gathering of union members—in the history of the United States. That massive turnout set the stage not only for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which President John F. Kennedy had proposed two months before, but also for the addition to that law of a Fair Employment Practices clause, which prohibited employers, unions, and government officials from discriminating against workers on the basis of race, religion, national origin, or sex. And, by linking those egalitarian objectives to a broader agenda of ending poverty and reforming the economy, the protest also forged a political agenda that would inspire liberals and leftists ranging from President Lyndon Johnson to the Black Power movement. ….

Deadly Picket-Lines in US Labour History

Source: Paul F. Lipold and Larry W. Isaac, International Union Rights, Vol. 24 No. 2, 2017
(subscription required)

Dead men tell no tales; that is, until the living give them voice. From 1870 to 1970, a veritable victims’ chorus of no fewer than 1160 fatalities was amassed during labour dispute confrontations within the United States of America. Each was simultaneously an expression of and catalyst within the dialectical evolution of US labour-management relations. …. Between 1877 to 1947, the US labour movement experienced the most violent and bloody era of and Western industrialized nation: strikers, organisers, and their sympathizers comprised nearly two-thirds of the classifiable victims. ….

The Contested Origins and Future of ‘Right to Work’ Laws

Source: Moshe Z. Marvit, International Union Rights, Vol. 24 No. 2, 2017
(subscription required)

Everything about so-called ‘right to work’ is contested. Its history, purpose, promoters, effects, even its name all remain unsettled. Contrary to how it may sound to one not steeped in the nuances of American labour history or law, ‘right to work’ is not a reference to the right to one’s job or the right to employment, or a rebuke to the norm of American at-will employment. Rather ‘right to work’ means the right of a workers to be represented by a union, but not pay any union dues or fees. Though it is a relatively obscure issue, especially now that private sector labour density is at its lowest since joining a union became a protected right in 1935, it has become a central tenet of American conservatism and one of the primary battlefields of labour law.