08 December 2012

Strategy for Unions, the Best Defense is a Good Offense

The year started with the Indiana legislature passing so called 'right-to-work legislation (source). And it is ending with the right-to-work campaign now occurring in Michigan (source). This is the law undermining the ability to organize and bargain collectively. The right will no doubt (indeed it does) frame this as an issue of free choice or some such nonsense. That is a post for another day. The point today is to look at the consequences. This is not a strategy for forming well-paying jobs. Quite the contrary.
"A recent study by the International Labor Organization concluded that low-wage work was rare where unionization rates were high. In countries where more than half of workers belong to a union, only 12 percent of jobs pay less than two-thirds of the middle wage, on average.

Still, there is little reason to believe that American labor unions can do much to lift the floor on wages in the future. Fewer than 7 percent of workers in the private sector are in a union. We have the largest share of low-paid jobs in the industrial world, amounting to almost one in four full-time workers, according to the International Labor Organization. And our rates of unionization continue to fall."
That is just one key observation in this story in The New York Times about incipient attempts to organize workers in low-wage industries in the U.S.; a second key observation is this:
"Union leaders know they are fighting long odds — hemmed in by legal decisions limiting how they can organize and protest, while trying to organize workers in industries of low skill and high turnover like fast food. But they hope to have come upon a winning strategy, applying some of the tactics that workers used before the Wagner Act created the federal legal right to unionize in 1935.

“We must go back to the strategies of nonviolent disruption of the 1930s,” suggests Stephen Lerner, a veteran organizer and strategist formerly at the Service Employees International Union, one of the unions behind the fast-food strike. “You can’t successfully organize without large-scale civil disobedience. The law will change when employers say there’s too much disruption. We need another system.”
Just so.

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