Sixty-five percent of Americans approve of labor unions and would join one if they could, according to a Gallup poll for Labor Day, 2020. Unions love to publicize that 65% figure. But here’s contradicting info: the Amazon organizing drive at Bessemer, Alabama, failed miserably. Despite a high-profile campaign, about 45% of eligible workers didn’t even vote! Of those who did vote, 60% rejected the union.
Longtime union organizer Chris Townsend, while urging unions to keep trying, projects a bleak future:
“You will have many, many, more opportunities to complain about what went wrong in the future failed organizing drives yet to come. Bessemer is merely a milepost on what will be a long and arduous road to organize this piece of the commanding economic heights. Many more losses lie ahead. Strikes and other uprisings are ahead. The union organization of corporate America will be a messy affair. There will be many casualties.”
Should we conclude that one contradictory fact or the other is just an aberration, or should we accept them both as hard data and try to figure out the reason? Straining to find an answer, should we think that everybody really does want a union, just not in their own workplace?
Most unions and union supporters have seized on a single explanation for the Amazon fiasco. They say that the American government is so hostile to working people that we don’t have a chance to organize. Labor law, they argue with considerable credibility, has to be changed! They are correct of course, but there’s a lot more to it.
I resolve the contradiction this way: unionization is genuinely popular in America, but our method of organizing needs changing. I agree with Chris Townsend that many future workplace organizing drives will fail. I just don’t believe that the traditional workplace organizing drive, taken alone, has a bright future. I also don’t expect a lot of immediate help from the government in changing labor law so that traditional workplace organizing drives will start succeeding. We don’t presently have that kind of government.
I believe that the data on union popularity from the 2020 Gallup Poll was correct. Further, I believe that union organizing is far more popular in 2021, because of the lessons learned during the continuing worldwide pandemic. I also believe that the American union movement, led by the AFL-CIO labor federation, is moving toward riding that popularity to real gains for working families.
Unions need more than traditional workplace organizing drives. We need big, national and international, campaigns to educate and mobilize our many supporters toward the goal of power for working families. We need to sign up all our supporters and get them to coordinate their resources meaningfully. We can do that. Given the fact that most Americans carry advanced learning and communications devices around with them, it might not take much time.
Workplace organizing, instead of being the one-and-only-labor-tactic, will become a by-product of a mighty movement. A single electronic source could start that movement and build it into an irresistible force. The AFL-CIO already has a potential tool called “Working America,” but it has not yet been fully implemented. It will, or something like it will, and union popularity will be unleashed at last.
If I am right about the progressive movement coming together with the AFL-CIO, then we are likely to see bigger and more meaningful activities. MayDay will be a test of sorts. In 2020, the AFL-CIO and certain national unions had big celebrations. For many of them, it was their first time to publicly acknowledge International Workers Day. I predict it will be far bigger and better in 2021. It will be based on unions, but not confined to them. MayDay will help unify and direct the progressive movement at last! Let’s see!
I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” radio talk show every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. We podcast the program and a more directed program, “Workers Beat Extra” on Soundcloud.com If you are interested in what I really think, take a look at my personal web site.
I am not writing on how to win elections. I am writing on the role of elections within the larger purpose of making fundamental change. Among those with that purpose, I will consider three approaches to the political arena known as elections.
All three groups may agree more than they disagree. They all agree that the two major political parties operating in the United States are controlled by very wealthy owners and employers. They all agree that neither the “better” nor the “worse” candidate intends any fundamental change. They agree that fundamental change will never be on the ballot as long as the owners and employers control the election process.
The first group abstains from elections, or they only participate when their own members are candidates. The Industrial Workers of the World were a good example. They believed that the bosses control the elections, the parties, and the candidates; consequently, the entire process was nothing but a diversion from the real struggles for change. Later variations on this approach make exceptions when their own members run for office because of the opportunities for proselytizing and organizing that elections afford. But even though they have limited participation in elections, they never believe that election outcomes make any difference.
As the election outcomes are a matter of indifference, these partial-abstainers tend to choose races and election opponents that represented ideas closest to their own. The followers of their opponents might be more likely to listen to, or even join, the “revolutionaries” in those races. While these “revolutionaries” may be very smug about their tactic, working families tend to see them as spoilers and wreckers, as in fact they are.
2) I think the second group in this discussion is the more dangerous of the two, because their “road to revolution” sounds easier. They see each election as an opportunity for gradual reforms that will eventually erode away the support of the wealthy bosses in charge. Such activists generally support the “better” candidate instead of the “worse” one, or the “better” party instead of the “worse” one. If that’s all there were to it, they would be relatively harmless. Their errors may not even be noticeable in general elections. But their actions in primary elections are a different matter.
Since they believe that the “better” political party – currently the Democrats – will eventually make revolutionary change, then the activists see their own role as finding and supporting the “more revolutionary” Democratic Party candidates in primary elections against the “less revolutionary” ones.
Excellent examples are active in elections today in the various groups that pursue the politics of Social Democrat Bernie Sanders. Like the “real revolutionaries” in the first group, they also choose to field candidates against those most like them. In those races, they are more likely of success. More importantly, every time they replace a “less revolutionary” candidate with a “more revolutionary” one, they believe they have moved the entire Democratic Party in the direction that they consider revolutionary.
The Bernie-ites take the Republican “Tea Party” movement as their example. Just as the “Tea Party” candidates defeated “less reactionary” primary candidates with “more reactionary” ones, and moved the Republican party in a reactionary direction, then one would think that a similar approach would make the Democratic Party more progressive and, eventually, revolutionary. The wealthy owners currently in charge will, apparently, not notice in time.
3) The third group does not participate in elections in order to manipulate the process. They support parties and candidates who will be of most benefit to working families, both in the long and in the short term. They do not tend to run primary challengers against the candidates most like them. In every race, primary or general, they choose the candidate most beneficial to working families. They do not disdain the electoral process, like the sectarians in the first group, nor do they commit to the “better” party against the “worse” one like the reformists in the second group. Their focus is on building the political power of working families in the election arena, just as they do in every other arena of political struggle.
Electoral politics is not nearly the only way that power is won and change is made. It may not even be the most important arena. It is certainly part, though, of the necessary process of building an effective coalition benefitting and led by working families. Such a coalition is the only possible remedy to wealthy owner control of our society.
I’m on “Workers Beat” radio talk show on knon.org at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. On Wednesdays, they podcast the program and another “Workers Beat Extra” on Soundcloud.com. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site
We saw a small but ugly part of the Republican Party terrorizing Congress on January 6. Did you notice that Trump never disassociated from them? Have you noticed, since then, that the majority of the Republican Party has not disassociated from Trump? A majority of Republicans in Congress voted to overthrow the elections even AFTER the terror attack. Republican Congressmen are circling their wagons around Trump as the impeachment trial approaches. Devout trumpsters continue to be placed in Republican Party power. That includes their national party head!
Are the Democrats Worried?
Democrats are not worried, because Trump is dragging his party down as well as backward. Democrats may find them easy to beat in near future elections.
I’ve only seen a few actual statistics on how many people are leaving the Republican Party: 2,000 in Arizona, 5,855 in North Carolina, 4,600 in Colorado. We won’t get a clear idea how many are leaving before the next national election. Some states, like mine, don’t even keep track of party registration. However, we can assume that the Republican Party, which has been the minority in popular votes for several election cycles, will be smaller. Smaller and more fanatical.
Should We Be Worried?
Damnright we should be worried! Even with a somewhat diminished official membership, the Republican Party is still one of the two massive parties. America has gone from having two parties firmly committed to limited democracy to having only one. The Republican party of today has shown its willingness to dispense with democracy altogether. That is fascist!
Did Hitler and the Nazis have a majority party? No, they took power with a plurality of voters. In fact, they weren’t even considered an important electoral threat before the great depression began in 1929. But that one crisis was enough to catapault them to power.
America today is one crisis away from fascism.
What Can Be Done?
United workers are the only force capable of stopping fascism. Fortunately for America, we have a progressive union movement around which we can unite. That’s the course that should be followed. It’s the path to victory and a positive future.
I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” radio talk show every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. We podcast the radio show and another narrative every Wednesday morning on Soundcloud.com. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my old personal web site.
Windham, Lane, “Knocking on Labor’s Door. Union Organizing in the 1970s and the Roots of a New Economic Divide.” University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2017
Capitalism is said to have begun in the middle of the 17th century in England. Workers and bosses have been fighting since then. Any period in that great long battle for democracy, dignity and a living wage would be an interesting period.
This author chose the 1970s in the United States. Certain underlying economic and social developments made it a period of interesting class warfare.
The civil rights movement and the women’s movement had created a more diversified, and more militant bunch of activists into organizable workplaces
The “American Century” of economic domination over the war-weary victims of World War II was noticeably beginning to end
America’s most devoted and seasoned labor activists had been driven away by the great witch hunt that began in 1946. Union militancy had turned into “business unionism.”
Union density peaked at about 35% of the workforce earlier, but unions still had about 20% of the workforce in the early 1970s. Union members had far better wages, better benefits, better pensions, and better jobs than the workforce at large. Part of the consequence of getting more for union members while ignoring other workers was increasing isolation for the unions.
Nevertheless, young people wanted to unionize. They fought hard. For the most part in the 1970s, they lost. One could argue that the events from 1947’s Taft Hartley law to 1970 had foreordained that labor would lose, but that isn’t Mr. Lane’s argument. It’s mine.
Lane argues that companies simply worked harder at union busting. They increasingly won government over to their side. By the end of the 1970s, when Ronald Reagan was elected, the downhill slide was evident to everyone. In 1995, maybe a little late, the AFL-CIO started trying to adjust to the new situation.
One shining light in Lane’s book is the early success of an organization called “9 to 5.” They organized women to fight for the workplace rights that the larger women’s movement had won through federal legislation. The idea of organizing outside the control of government authorities like the National Labor Relations Board was a good one, and they had some early successes. However, it didn’t last.
In fact, most of the hopes that young activists may have had for union organizing in the 1970s were crushed. This is not a happy book to read. I wish he had chosen the 1990s, when American labor began to show some real promise.
I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” talk show every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. We podcast it and “Workers Beat Extra” dialogue on Wednesdays on Soundcloud.com. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my old personal site.
McCrory, Dan, “Capitalism Killed the Middle Class. 25 Ways the System is Rigged Against You.” Published by Dan McCrory, 2019
I interviewed the author and put it on Facebook, “Workers Beat Extra” and YouTube. November, 2020. The book is a handy compendium of everything bad about capitalist America. The list is too long to even summarize. I think the author did a lot of research and added his personal experiences as a local CWA activist and President. He has some good cartoons by Gary Huck.
But, like the cartoons, the book lists all the problems but falls short on the solutions. The final chapter has a question mark, “Evolution or Revolution?” When I interviewed him, McCrory told me he is a Democratic Party activist. And the book is consistent with the idea that progressive activity within the Democratic Party will eventually overcome all the problems of capitalism. As I don’t agree with that, I had a little bit of a hard time taking the whole book seriously.
These are the people who took 4 years to get over wrists they sprained when Obama was President and are doing handsprings today over Biden.
I’m on knon.org’s “Workers Beat” radio talk show every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. We podcast on Soundcloud.com. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site.
Book Review: Reuther, Victor G. “The Brothers Reuther and the Story of the UAW / A Memoir.” Canadian Edition, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1976
Victor Reuther was an outstanding communicator. He wrote a good book detailing the roles of Roy, Walter, and himself in the American labor movement. Whether one thinks, as nearly all UAW members do, that Walter was very close to God himself; or if one thinks that Walter Reuther was largely responsible for turning the American labor movement toward a very sorry period for working people; one still has to admit that the Reuther brothers had exciting lives and etched deep marks into history.
Historians can use Victor’s memoir to bolster either the dark or the illustrious view of Walter Reuther.
I knew Victor because he helped my local union in a contract fight between March, 1984, and July, 1985. I emceed a fund-raising dinner and introduced Victor as the main speaker. I spent some time with Victor at the UAW’s Black Lake educational center and took advantage of an occasion to interview him about the past. In answering my most critical question, Victor told me that the communists had to be ousted in the UAW because they “had a separate agenda.”
Over the years, I have had occasion to talk to many knowledgeable history buffs and UAW members about the Reuthers. Even the ones who have a dark view of Walter Reuther’s historical role nevertheless agree that “Victor was the best of them.”
Here is a little bit of the narrative of the book: the Reuthers were raised as democratic socialists. In the early 1930s, Walter and Victor took a bicycle tour of Europe which included a stint in a Russian auto manufacturing plant. They returned to America just as the sit-down strikes began sweeping the nation. Walter won a seat on the executive board of the UAW.
Victor had a key role in the great Flint sit-down strike that established the UAW and won their landmark contract with General Motors. He drove the sound truck and was, thus, the chief orator during the entire fight. Walter distinguished himself with a proposal to use auto plants for airplane manufacture during the Second World War.
At the end of the war, Walter led an anti-communist faction to victory in the UAW. He remained President for more than two decades. Victor took on international affairs for the increasingly powerful union. Walter eventually took over the CIO and led it into the merger with the AFL. Walter was an important part of many important policy decisions in the labor movement. Roy rounded up votes for UAW political candidates. He died a natural death in the 1960s. Walter died in an airplane crash in 1971. Victor retired in 1972 in order to write this book.
To his great credit, Victor includes detailed accounts of the AFL-CIO’s deep involvement with the ugly deeds of the Central Intelligence Agency. They helped overthrow democratic governments and install dictators regularly, and Victor writes it down.
UAW members think that Walter Reuther created the UAW and led the strike at Flint. He created pensions, health care, and unemployment insurance. He raised the standard of living for auto workers and, consequently, for the entire nation.
Reuther’s detractors, like me, think that he turned the American labor movement away from its natural inclination to fight the bosses. As a social democrat who was neither a coward nor a traitor, he was probably the best of the entire layer of opportunists who took advantage of the government’s harsh anti-labor turn and unprecedented prosperity after the World War. As social democrats, the Reuther brothers helped destroy the most progressive elements in the American labor movement and, working in harmony with the government, throughout the industrialized world.
Reuther’s detractors think that employer-provided health care and pensions were a giant step backward from a national health care program and improved Social Security – both of which had been CIO policies. Reuther’s detractors think that the CIO’s commitment to civil rights was destroyed during the witch-hunt and, even though the Reuthers were the best of them, union leaders essentially gave up on progressive politics.
Reuther’s detractors think that, at best, none of them were historically better than their good friend Hubert Humphrey, the “happy warrior” of cold war fame.
I think that Victor meant his book as a tribute, but he was a straight talker and a gifted communicator.
I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” talk show at 9AM Central Time every Saturday. I podcast “Workers Beat Extra” on Soundcloud.com. If you are curious about what I really think, you can check out my personal web site
Some of My Notes:
Pg 110 Estimation of USSR. “Historians will probably debate for centuries whether so vast a country could have made the transition from feudalism to an industrial state without great sacrifice of individual freedom. But in the thirties, we were constantly disheartened at the price that was paid, while at the same time we were astonished at the progress manifest not only in factory production but in the rise of the standard of living.”
Pg 144 VP Wyndham Mortimer went to Flint to bring the auto workers together as Local 156. His mimeographed leaflets were too advanced for Flint, Reuther says, so a delegation from the local asked that he be replaced by Bob Travis. Travis then asked Roy Reuther to help him organize Flint. This contradicts Mortimer’s book mightily.
Pg 145 Kraus Henry, started the Flint Auto Worker. He wrote his own history of the union
Pg148 Mortimer And Homer Martin asked Victor to come to Flint to join staff. He did it on Jan 1, 1937, the day after the Fisher Body sit-down began. Quite a bit about how inadequate and traitorous Martin was
Pg 151 Travis “The great contribution of Bob Travis cannot be underestimated. He inspired confidence and loyalty everywhere he went. Though not an effective public speaker – he left the orator to Roy and me –…” // Carol Travis said that Victor complimented Travis’ speaking style. In Victor’s account, the ruse that Travis used to win an important GM department was brilliant. He doesn’t mention what Carol told me, which was that Victor was not party to this strategic decision//
Pg ? Bill Mckie mentioned as a close adviser to Walter. McKie had been fired from Ford and used an assumed name. There is another book on Mckie
Pg 209: Homer Martin in cahoots with Harry Bennett, the hoodlum running Ford’s anti-union gangs
Pg 211 “It was not until March 1941, however, that the death blow was given to Bennett and his antiunion army. By direction of the Supreme Court and the NLRB … “ //He credits some lawyer with this great achievement, but doesn’t mention Nat Wells, the lawyer who got the goods on Ford in Dallas. I have Wells’ remembrances//
Pg212: Ford agreed to checkoff for his own reasons
Pg236: CP blamed Reuthers for not wanting merit pay. Browder attacked both brothers for opposing the war effort. Said that Vic was consistently anti-war, but that Walter flip flopped as his ambitions suited.
Pg 237 Color barrier: “I remember that 2,400 Packard workers went on strike when three black girls were hired, after consultation with the UAW, the War Production Board, and the War Manpower Commission. Our International officers stood firm, and the strike was ended with those three girls still on the job and many other blacks on the employment muster.” //There is another account of an anti-black strike at Studebaker. UAW broke the strike and stood up for civil rights//
Pg 246 6 hour day: “[Walter] saw an urgent need for a thirty-hour week with the take-home pay of a forty-hour week:…” //This slogan was in UAW conventions up until 1957 and then disappeared//
Pg 247 Socialist Plan: /post war/ “The government-owned war plants should be leased to private industry, but with guarantees from those industries that would protect both labor and the consumer.”
Pg292 Texas “The UAW turned to two highly qualified investigators…Heber Blankenhorn… “When Blankenhorn was with NLRB, he almost single-handedly broke the case in Texas involving the violence provoked by Harry Bennett and His Ford Service Department.” //not Nat Wells?//
Pg293: Reuther shootings. Vic lost an eye, Walter nearly lost an arm. Vic complains mightily that police did not investigate underworld connections of auto companies. All they wanted to do was investigate communists.
Pg 295 Vic overseas. //in 1950??// “…a year after I had been shot…I was then back in full swing and had ahead of me many missions overseas.” //Victor’s role was to build “independent” (read anti-communist) unions in Europe.
Pg 308 pensions
Pg 312 Social Security increase. Pensions asked for in 1950
Pg 315 Sub Pay Supplemental unemployment benefit plan: Walter wanted this because auto work was intermittent. They got it I think in 1955
Pg 321 Democracy
Pg 325 Meany “…imagine Walter’s horror when in February 1970, he read the Washington Post headline ‘Meany would end union votes for ratification of contracts.’” //Victor has a lot of disparaging things to say about Meany and the AFL-CIO that he ran for many years//
Pg 327 flower funds OK
Pg 328 Trotskyites tolerated at UAW Convention
Pg 331 ICFTU founded 1949. Walter was an early delegate. AFL and CIO both in it //It was set up deliberately to counter the World Federation of Trade Unions, which included unions from socialist nations//
Pg 341 Walter explained to Truman why German industry had to be rehabilitated instead of being deprived. One of his arguments, “A major goal of your foreign policy is to prevent the spread of Communist totalitarianism and to preserve and strengthen democracy throughout the world.”
‘pg 357 Health Care “The success of the British National Health Service was to have a deep effect on Walter. Some years later a national committee of distinguished health experts drafted, under Walter’s chairmanship, the basic elements of what has become the Kennedy-“Gorman-Griffiths Health Bill.”
Pg 358 Environment, internationalism, and disarmament
Pg 366 Merger “Though the merger actually failed to strengthen the labor movement…” Victor thinks the merger of CIO with AFL was “premature”
Pg367 Meany bragged about spending so much on foreign affairs while only 2-3% expenditures were for organizing in U.S.
Pg 392 Peace corps Walter had proposed Peace Corps at least 7 years before Kennedy did it. Walter said, “The more young Americans are sent to the places in the world where people are hungry… the fewer of our sons we will have to send with guns to fight Communism on the battlefields of the world.”
Pg 411 CIA “The seduction of the AFL-CIO by the Central Intelligence Agency” poem. Victor actually details the involvement of the labor federation with the CIA. There are dollar amounts, names of conduits, and quite a bit of how it all worked.
Pg 423: “Thus the AFL-CIO became, quite literally, a disbursement agent for the State Department.”
Pg 426: “It was not until he fully understood the corrupting role of the AIFLD in Brazil, and heard Meany hail the overthrow of the Goulart regime, that Walter understood what he had, in all conscience, to do.” //I think this might have been 1964// Victor asserts that UAW’s international work was never financed by govt but came from the interest on the strike fund. The AFL-CIO was using government funds for their “international work.”
Pg 429 Democratic Party: Roy said that they never intended to capture the Democratic Party
jPg 449 “The Reuthers, all of us, had had a long and close friendship with [Hubert] Humphrey over the years.”
Pg 452: [Walter] countenanced the vigorous antiwar views of Emil Mazey, Paul Schrade… and me.”
Pg 488: Appendix B “Agreement between the AFL-CIO and the State Department.” Details allocation of $1,300,000 from named unions to American Institute for Free Labor Development, African-American Labor Center, and the Asian American Free Labor Instruments for “strengthening free trade unions throughout the world.”
Pg 490: Appendix C: Budget for AIFLD
Pg491 Appendix D: Memo to Atty Gn RF Kennedy prepared by VG Reuther, WP Reuther and Joseph L Rauh Jr. Explains the danger of the radical right in America. This was the days of Goldwater and the John Birch Society.
Book Review: Tippett, Tom, “When Southern Labor Stirs,” Jonathan Cape & Harrison Smith, New York, 1931
I can’t resist any labor history book I find at Half Price Books. This one cost $45, so I assume it is hard to find today. Its message rings through the decades.
In 1929-1930, southern textile workers tried hard to organize into unions. They asked anybody who would listen for union organizers. The Communist-led National Textile Union and the American Federation of Labor-led United Textile Union responded. Bosses forced them into strikes at Elizabethton, Gastonia, Greenville, Marion, and Danville. Tom Tippett visited them all to record his history and opinion.
All of the strikes were major disasters. Tippett apportions the blame as he goes along and in a final chapter. The strikes were settled by armed strikebreakers and soldiers with bayonets, so it’s quite clear why the strikes failed. Governors sent soldiers and “law” officers helped organize the hoodlums, so the fault had nothing to do with the balance of power between the bosses and the workers – government intervention was always the decisive factor.
But our side gets some criticism, too. Tippett compliments the Communists for the depth of their commitment and the peripheral support that they offered the strikers. They brought lawyers, fund raisers, and publicists into the fray. He faults the AFL for their tepid commitment and timid approach. He excoriates both organizations soundly for not anticipating the government intervention.
One feels that the strikers in every case could have won if they only had to deal with the bosses and their local backers such as newspapers and preachers.
Tippett compliments the strikers for their commitment and their spiritual development as unified forces. He loves their songs. He tells of their bravery as they faced terrible hardships. Many of them were blacklisted, some were injured, some were imprisoned, and some were murdered. . One of the outstanding murder victims was Ella Mae Wiggins, a pregnant mother of five who was killed by strikebreakers with shotguns.
The tales are both heartening, because of the heroic efforts, and depressing, because our side lost. In his summary, though, Tom Tippett sees a bright future ahead. He lists some things that could have been done better:
More attention to racial divisions among the workers
The entire labor movement, not isolated unions, should commit to organizing the South
Financial commitment must be strong because fired workers must have support
The AFL strategy of trying to win over the bosses should be set aside
The spirit of unionism must be cultivated and maintained
Unions must embrace advanced social programs that inspire solidarity
Tippett had great ideas, and many of them were to be adopted just 4 years later when the CIO gestated in the belly of the AFL. His faith in the future of organizing in southern textile mills did not bear fruit in his lifetime. The AFL gave up after these strikes. The CIO tried later, but eventually abandoned its effort to organize the South. The textile mills were long ago offshored to places with even more downtrodden and desperate workers.
But it takes a certain level of faith in the future to be an American union activist, so I deliver to you Tippett’s ending to these sad stories of the past: “…down underneath the southern unrest is a germ with a will to live that neither mobs nor massacres nor prisons can extinguish. It was best expressed in the words of a textile operative whose husband had been killed in front of the Marion cotton mill when she said, ‘somehow or other, we’re going to have a union.’ And they are.”
I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” radio talk show at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site.
Labor needs an advanced program to meet today’s extreme challenges:
No corporate bailouts!
Nobody is prouder than I of the improvements in the AFL-CIO since the leadership change of 1995. We have reached new peaks this year with our May 1 celebrations and our taking sides with the movement for racial justice.
But the situation is changing so quickly and so dramatically that I believe the American labor movement needs very advanced thinking if we expect to be able to say that we truly represent the needs of all working families. There is little danger, in this extreme situation, of overreaching.
Six Hour Day!
Because of the ongoing unemployment crisis, now is the time to re-implement our old demand for shorter working hours. A six-hour day would help with unemployment and, most likely, increase labor productivity just as it did when the Fair Labor Standards Act came.
During the heyday of the CIO and for a while afterward, American unions demanded “30 for 40 with no cut in pay!” We wanted a 30-hour work week with the same pay we were making in 40 hours. I once checked the resolutions at conventions of the UAW and found that “30 for 40” was there every convention until 1957. That same year was also the peak of U.S. labor organizing. We had 37% of the workforce organized in America!
After 1957, shorter working hours was forgotten and it’s hard to find a union leader today that even knows about it. One exception is a former officer of a local of the United Transportation Union. The UTU is a railroad union. Tom Berry actually negotiated a contract with a 6 hour work day in it, and he will still talk to you about it any Saturday evening when his free speech forum takes place in Dallas. I’m proud he’s my friend.
Somewhere in my moldy pile of old books, I have one about the struggle for shorter working hours. I think it might be named “It’s About Time.” Just as one could make a case for the age old class struggle being a fight for democracy, one could also say it was about time.
Prior to the industrial revolution, most people worked from dawn to dusk. They were outdoors, varying their tasks, and doing their own pacing, so it may not have been nearly as hard for them as it was for factory workers after the industrial revolution. From the industrial revolution forward, working families have fought their bosses over working hours.
In 1886, we had worldwide strikes to try to win an 8-hour day. The main leaders of that movement in Chicago were rounded up and hanged, so we didn’t hear a lot more about it until the Great Depression. When unemployment soared, the Roosevelt Administration pushed for the Fair Labor Standards Act. It was finally passed on June 25, 1938.
The FLSA doesn’t guarantee an 8-hour day. It just mandates overtime pay for working over 40 hours in a given workweek. Bosses don’t like to pay overtime, so 40 hours became something of a norm on many worksites.
America’s overtime problem today rivals that of 1938, so everybody should be able to understand and get behind the demand for shorter working hours now.
Jobs and Infrastructure
Now is the time to demand trillions of dollars for infrastructure repair and advancement. Truly terrible unemployment may be with us for a long time if strong progressive action is not taken. Among the many pressing infrastructure problems is the need for fast internet everywhere.
Democracy Comes First!
Our political demands must be improved in the direction of defending and strengthening democracy, because working families need it most and the wealthy employers of today are not going to provide it. Our usual demands for fair wages, benefits and the right to organize, of course, must be pursued.
No More Corporate Bailouts!
Since 2007, most of the economic action of the government has been directed toward propping up employers with little regard for working families. It needs to stop. If a corporation can only survive by getting a government bailout, it doesn’t need to survive. If workers are displaced by corporate failure, they should be employed directly by government. Their efforts should go toward meeting human needs, not profits.
Corporations have shown and are showing that they cannot be trusted “middle men” to distribute corporate welfare as wages to their suffering employees. In the last crisis and the current one, corporations hid their windfalls from the public and, as soon as they could, redistributed the money to themselves!
They are in that same process with pandemic bailout money right now!
American labor has done is doing a valiant job, especially considering our dwindling resources. In order to bring forward a truly progressive agenda, we are going to have to redouble our efforts to win over the general American population. Our on-line arm, Working America, is perfectly suited to doing this work, especially during the pandemic.
With a progressive program and a digital approach, American labor can organize everybody!
I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” radio talk who every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. We podcast it, and some of my other talks, on Soundcloud. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site
American union federations should not accept police associations as members.
Everyone knows that the American labor movement has diminished in size and influence since the mid 1950s. The pandemic, the economic crisis, and a hostile government are accelerating the erosion today. Two doors to labor’s revival are open to us:
More of the kind of workplace organizing that we have always done or tried to do.
Improving our connections with broader communities that can add to our negotiating and electoral clout
We have to pass through both of those doors, but one of them is endangered by our association with police unions. The broader community, the broader electorate, distrusts police unions and anybody associated with them. A leading civil rights activist in Dallas today commented on the possibility of allowing the Police Association to affiliate with the Dallas AFL-CIO. He said, “If they do, I will never have anything to do with them!” He meant what he said.
Oddly, a lot of the public argument seems to be about whether or not police unions are really unions. If a union is a group of people organized together to advance their aims and defend their members, then certainly the police associations are unions. No argument.
Using the same definition, though, a lot of other associations are also unions. They advance their aims and defend their members. The Chamber of Commerce, arguably labor’s worst enemy, meets the definition. The Business Roundtable is a union. So is the White Citizens’ Alliance. They are unions, but they are not on the side of working families — and neither are the police.
Even the editors of the Dallas Morning News, historic enemies of working families, argue that police unions are reactionaries. The combined constituency groups of the AFL-CIO issued a statement that contains this:
“We demand local schools, colleges, universities, and all public institutions cut ties with the police.”
It is entirely possible, given the desperate financial situation of many actual unions, that members might want to affiliate with the police associations just for the money. They would argue that unions would benefit from additional workplace organizing; door number 1 above.
But door number 2, our hope of harnessing labor’s power along with the broad progressive community and electorate, would be swinging closed.
American labor should not affiliate with police associations.
I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9 Central Time. They podcast the program plus other statements on Soundcloud. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site