Sunday, December 20, 2009

Caveat Lectores on Union Busting

The Rant is not really all that much about union organizing or union busting, however. It is about history and how it may repeat itself if we do not study labor history maybe just a little. The history of labor unions is mostly lost to nearly all workers without considerable effort to sort it out. Most available labor history is incredibly partisan; therefore, suspect to anyone but the most trusting.

Either side of the labor/management argument is usually woefully ignorant because they only know what they heard from a supporter or a detractor. Most learned what little they know from their parents who held equally ignorant opinions.

Most secondary and post secondary schools do a miserable job of teaching labor history and unions do a pitiful and partisan job. It does not take much reading of any historical narrative to feel the point of view of the writer. Maybe I am being harsh on myself as well because I was a serious union supporter long before I troubled myself to learn anything about the union movement. How I got there is chronicled in my bio on the blog site. Why I stay on the union side is another matter.

My professional specialty, if I have one, is public sector unions with a subspecialty in fire/rescue. After nearly four decades of involvement, I call myself an expert and many people agree, but they do not always agree with me.

Here are some observations made from years of experience in watching what goes on with unions, both from the inside and outside the circle of the brotherhood.

• The labor movement predates us all and was born of suffering and wretchedness I will never fully understand, with any luck at all. Millions of workers lived in third world conditions. Too many workers still do.
• It was the threat of a strange sort of civil war that prompted Congress to legalize and sanction collective bargaining for private sector workers.
• This continued threat and the effects of the Great Depression caused those in power to rethink the laissez -faire attitude toward worker rights and pass the National Labor Relations Act.
• Many public employees even as the first decade of the 21st century ends do not have the same rights.
• As the triumphs of private sector unions have risen and fallen, public sector unions now have found the opportunities that once resided only in the private sector.
• Private sector unions are rapidly dwindling in power and relevance.
• Local, state, and federal sector unions are steadily increasing in numbers of members and will explode if legislation passes at the federal level to open up the opportunity for more to collectively bargain.
• This anticipated opportunity has caused private business and government to ratchet up the war against worker rights.

In order for all unions to grow instead of shrink to irrelevance, the leadership and the members will have to mature to fit the needs and realities of the 21st century. That is going to be more difficult than many would believe. 20th century methods of organizing and administration of unions at the national and local level will not provide success.

Why do I say that? Look at the past 30 years. I am not a rocket scientist, but I can see there needs to be a change of tactics. This is not an indictment of present leadership, but that things must change. Times change, the definition of relevance changes as well. Let’s hope that the time never comes when the old ways of gaining success that worked in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s ever revisit us.

The reason this in not a tirade on how to be successful is that there is no quick answer that can fill a couple of pages. I have lots of incremental suggestions, but no guaranteed fix that will not require time, pain and resources.

• Modern workers and their expectations are more complex, and even more complex solutions will be required to entice them to join unions,
• Management is more sophisticated in the way it goes about union busting.
• Some would say that government and the politicians have been bought and paid for by those who oppose worker rights.

Daily, I hear my union brothers and sisters whine about how things are going to “hell in a hand basket.” I call it whining because it is similar to a child’s lament that “it’s not fair.” Things will not change for the better until we do what is needed to make it better.

In the private sector, the solution is too intricate for today’s rant. The public sector is simple but not easy. sustaining success in the public sector will require public relations, political action and lobbying in such a way as has not been seen before.

That is all for today’s installment. More to come and prior Caveat Lectores have touched on this topic, as well.

I just finished watching Matewan. It is a 1987 movie about a coal mining town and the people who were involved in trying to organize a labor union. .The story line in Matewan was filled with the misery, brutality and losses before successes began to appear. In fact, there was little to no success attached to that period in history. I highly reco9mmend it to begin the study of labor history.

And Oh yes… Have a nice day?

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