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November 07, 2007

My Commenters Is Smarter Than I: Union PR Edition

TCM writes:

I think that a large component of this problem (the poor public image of unions) is due to the fact that just about the only unions left (ironic pun intended on that last word) are the amazingly successful ones (or at least the huge and durable ones).

To be sure, there's strength in scale and the amalgamation of individuals and small groups -- but just as the same dynamic plays out in corpoorations, you end up having to root for the Goliaths of the world.

It's not so much that US unions are victims of their own success in this regard, but that the scale required for them to negotiate against similarly scaled corporations has led the mega-unions to focus ever more narrowly on maintaining the status quo.

All of which is *not* to say that the solution to the PR problem is "smaller unions." Honestly, I don't know what the solution is.

I think that's true to some extent. On the other hand, there really are roughly two types of unions at this point: Status quo unions trying to retain the gains they've made, and expansionary unions trying force their way into new sectors. The latter are, to be sure, somewhat more sympathetic. But just as the rich get richer in business, the dense get denser in organizing. The ability to call sympathetic strikes, to create strike funds, to run massive political campaigns, to have a well-funded organizing operation -- these all require a large union movement, and mean that preexisting unions make future organizing campaigns more likely. Density builds on itself.

November 7, 2007 in Labor | Permalink

Comments

I think that the poor public image of unions comes from them getting exclusive. Around Providence RI were I grew up the word was that you needed to be realted to a Union member to get into a union and get a union job (particularly in cosntruction). Certain unions had become exclusive and restrictive.

Posted by: Floccina | Nov 7, 2007 2:28:11 PM

PS to my post above. The unions need to be expansive, to do this they may need accept lower wages in order to recruit more and share the weath.

Posted by: Floccina | Nov 7, 2007 2:37:46 PM

Yeah, density does build upon itself - to the benefit of the corporations with their multinational orientation, acquisitions of competitive and non-competitive businesses, and industry-trade groups that assemble and deploy legions of anti-union "PR" firms to prey on workers involved in organizing.

The whole NLRB thing is completely broken, and now works for the corporations instead of worker interests - a prime example of the regulated taking over the regulators that is characteristic of GOP mal-governance.

Corporate heads need to be at risk for hard jail time under the law (instead of meaningless fines that can be paid out of petty cash) before anything can happen to restore some balance in employer/employee relations.

The decline of the unions isn't an accident of fate or the incompetence of union leaders, but instead is the calculated result of well-planned anti-union action by corporations, their lobbyists, and on-the-take congresspersons.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Nov 7, 2007 3:15:30 PM

As Jim notes:

The decline of the unions isn't an accident of fate or the incompetence of union leaders, but instead is the calculated result of well-planned anti-union action by corporations, their lobbyists, and on-the-take congresspersons.

Folks, the Bush Administration has ratcheted up the war on labor to newer and greater heights. They are doing so in pursuit of a political agenda that is bent on wiping out any effective countervailing forces -- see also attacks on trial lawyers and so-called tort reform.

The idea that there are putative progressives splitting hairs or wringing their hands over "good unions" and "bad unions" says so much about why we have gotten our asses kicked for the last quarter century.

Sometimes, in the words of an old labor song, you just need to ask yourself "which side are you on."

Posted by: Klein's Tiny Left Nut | Nov 7, 2007 5:48:24 PM

I'm so sick of hte liberal mantra that just because a union was a good thing in America's history means that they are necessary in perpetuity.

I'm sorry, but a union forcing mines to provide basic safety equipment so they dont lose half their workforce to accidents (e.g. circa 1890s) is NOT the same thing as a union today which bitches and moans because they are getting paid "only" $15 an hour at a grocery store (see California)

Unions had their purpose once. Now OSHA handles all the stuff that we previously needed unions for.

Posted by: joe blow | Nov 7, 2007 9:14:57 PM

Joe,

And as we have totally seen this year, with OSHA on the case, nothing bad could ever happen to non-unionized miners.

You're a moron.

Posted by: Klein's Tiny Left Nut | Nov 7, 2007 10:03:38 PM

Yes the democrats need to lay off the unionizing of america and start fixing the problems that we really do face. American laborers just arent facing the type of problems that justified the existance of unions. By law we make a decent living at a minium, basic safety measures are manated by law, minimum amounts of health care are required by employers.. sure it may not be all roses, Xboxes, and Ferarris for every guy that drives a rivet on a ford focus.. but they live a far sight better then anyone with that same job did in the 50's.

They hearken back to a time when chinamen and other immigrants were basically enslaved to 1 corporation and had no choice but to work there or literally die. ..or wish they did in their miserable lives. We now have a variety of corporations for any given market, again by law.. and those same companies can just as easily go overseas if and when the unionized employees get too greedy.

Part of the bad reputation of unions comes from the law itself though. ..in non 'right to work' states where you are forced to be included in a union, and to have that union be your 'sole representation' with no choice to exclude yourself. ..in many cases these unions are just another corporation, absorbing your money, and working at cross purposes to the employer which is putting bread on your table.

Beyond that unless you know how to work the system, and have a problem that can be politically useful (like sex discrimination against management) they dont bother to assist.

..if nothing else.. there should be a choice to participate. ..and an ability to go it alone if you wish.

Posted by: davidb | Nov 7, 2007 10:08:57 PM

"And as we have totally seen this year, with OSHA on the case, nothing bad could ever happen to non-unionized miners."


Then fix OSHA you idiot. Dont give me this bloated union crap with all the of the baggage that includes.

Arent you liberals fond of a centralized government control anyways over this kind of crap? Why would a patchwork of unions be the best solution for workforce safety issues?

Posted by: joe blow | Nov 8, 2007 10:52:31 AM

Wow, it's amazing how fast the anti-union trolls arrive. I'm glad to hear about the mandated health care though -- just last week the wingnuts were arguing against coverage for the middle class, but now I guess it's been achieved.

The anti-worker stacking of the NLRB contributes greatly to the consolidation of unions. Only the biggest organizations can support the years of litigation required to force employers to give even lip service to what labor law there is left.

Posted by: paul | Nov 8, 2007 11:38:22 AM

there really are roughly two types of unions at this point: Status quo unions trying to retain the gains they've made, and expansionary unions trying force their way into new sectors

I can't think of any expansionary unions that are not public sector employee's unions. Is there an example of any sucessful private sector union expansion into previously non-unionized work (i.e. not just switching from one union to a different one) since 1980?

Posted by: Kenny | Nov 8, 2007 7:48:22 PM

Kenny,

SEIU has had massive success in the private sector in previously non union sectors, i.e. home health care, janitors, etc.

But that's not easy to replicate. It takes a stunning amount of resources and mobilization of effort.

Posted by: Klein's Tiny Left Nut | Nov 8, 2007 8:21:46 PM

Hi Kenny,

RE: fast-growing unions

The California Nurses Association has grown 350% in 10 years, founded the National Nurses Organizing Committee, expanded to all 50 states, gotten patient safety protections passed in Cali, and is now working to bring single-payer healthcare to the country.

And we're mostly private-sector...

Posted by: Shum Preston | Nov 9, 2007 4:30:13 PM

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