Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Thanks to Dennis Nolan for sending a link to this New York Times article Unions’ Past May Hold Key to Their Future. The article points out that unions were extraordinarily weak in the early 1930s, but reinvented themselves and came roaring back a decade later. Perhaps they can pull off a repeat performance. Here's the article's take-away:
But if the prospects look grim for the unions of America’s industrial era, the precedent of the 1930s — when workers organized in droves — offers perhaps a hint of a path for organized labor as the economy works its way forward from the Great Recession, a role that perhaps better fits the nation’s corporate makeup.
The future labor movement may have to give up organizing work site by work site. Its biggest political fight in the last few years — pushing a law to make it easier to organize a workplace — may be irrelevant. And fighting to create new barriers to foreign competition is probably a lost cause. Instead of negotiating for their members only, unions might do better pulling for better wages and conditions for all workers.
Some scholars, like the economist Richard B. Freeman of the National Bureau of Economic Research, suggest the labor movement could take a page from the AARP’s playbook and become a lobbying group. German-like worker councils could discuss workplace issues with management, without negotiating over pay.
Maybe unions don’t have to entirely give up collective bargaining but broaden it. A model might be the alliance between the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and the Domestic Workers Alliance of New York City to push for a bill of rights for nonunionized nannies and maids.
In any event, 80 years from now, labor organizations will probably look as different as our current unions look when compared with the guilds of 80 years ago. Today’s strongest unions — of autoworkers and airline pilots — could easily be the weakest, decimated by international competition. Unions may well be strongest in hospitals, hotels and other businesses not exposed to international trade.
But are these reinventions or abdications?