Archive for March, 2009

Posted by: kokoro | 31st Mar, 2009

Wellman,The Union Makes Us Strong

Wellman focuses on the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU), Local 10 in San Francisco, to argue that radical unionism is not dead.

In Part One Wellman argues against previous scholarship that assumes that the industrial unionism of the 1930s became business unionism following WWII. The trajectory into business unionism is assumed to be a natural course, and the left-wing unions that didn’t follow that trajectory, like the ILWU, are considered “exceptions.” Wellman believes that the survival of ILWU-like unions calls into question the beliefs about radical labor’s demise. He argues against putting too many distinctions between industrial and business unionism and against assuming that control contests end with contracts. The early CIO of the 1930s fought for working-class participation in U.S. institutions, shopfloor democracy in the workplace, and industrial demands in national politics. Wellman points to the demise of labor in the national political agenda as the failure scholars point to, but he argues that issues of control and participation in everyday workers’ lives are another example of radical labor. Participatory politics continue today in the ILWU and beyond.

In Part Two Wellman investigates the political aspects of Local 10 in San Francisco. In the late 1940s and 1950s bargaining contracts and anti-Communism led to the CIO to become dependent on the Democratic Party, acting as a pressure group within the party. Political attacks allowed the leftist ILWU to avoid bureaucratizing. Unable to rely on federal protection, the union remained politically independent.

The community resources of Local 10 remain important for its struggle for control of the workplace. Public politics and the culture of participation are organizational mainstays, and workers participate is in nearly every part of the union. The community of Local 10 is both cultural and institutional. The practices of fraternity, equality, and liberty are resources for disobedience, challenging management’s control, and avoiding the centralizing, bureaucratic tendency of the union.

Union halls are the fabric of the community. The union continues to operate as it has for over a half century, through a participationist, egalitarian “tumultuous democracy.” It is another source of opposition to employer control and the centralizing tendencies of unionism. Deliberations become the business of the entire membership, and officials are joined at the bargaining table by the rank and file. The grapevine, daily dispatch, and flexible work hours also allow longshoremen to keep an eye on elected officials. Politicos are longshoremen who run for office and participate regularly and extensively in union activities. They “make the record” through their militarism at the bargaining table and union meetings, and through their accomplishments, issues raised, and programs produced. Longshoremen learn practical democracy in the union hall and practice it on the docks.

In Part Three Wellman discusses how the introduction of technology impacted work on the docks, as well as codes of conducts for working. In the 1960s the union signed a contractual agreement, called the “Mechanization and Modernization Agreement” (M&M), which introduced new technology. Longshoring became capital intensive, and work came to resemble factory tasks. However, employers still relied on workers for many reasons. Technological renovation didn’t live up to its expectations. Workplace governance was not settled despite changes in dockwork, and while traditional skills became less important, they were replaced by new skills. The community also remained political active, as longshoremen insisted on being taken into account and objected to being disregarded.

While new technology did not alter class relations, it did create two debates within the longshoremen community based on the nature of skilled labor on the waterfront. One group argues that modern longshoring requires technological equipment. They equate skill with containerization. The other group argues that running equipment doesn’t require much skill. The supporters of the first argument are longshoremen who work with modern technology on container docks and union officials who defend the M&M Agreements. The supporters of the other argument include men working out of hiring halls or in gangs with conventional technology. The debate is fueled for many reasons. New technology fractured the understanding of skilled labor. It created a definition of skill determined by the employer, which ruins traditional longshoremen respect for experience. Equipment operators tend to be young men, which inverts the traditional relationship between experience, ability, and reward. Also, steady technology based work decreases dependency on the union, which hurts the community of fraternity, equality, and liberty.

Wellman also discusses the codes of conduct for longshoremen. They are principles that distinguish acceptable and unacceptable, fair and unfair, work practices. These standards of accountability and principles of self-regulation are enforced by the longshoremen.

In Part Four Wellman examines Local 10’s contractual encounters with the Pacific Maritime Association. He argues that the battle for shopfloor control did not end with the M&M Agreements. Longshoremen challenge management’s control over the waterfront through informal means on the docks (through knowledge to autonomous work) and contractually (through grievance processes). The disagreements between longshoremen and management have remained virtually the same since the 1930s based upon which side’s rules will be followed in relation to how to work, language, and merit.

Determining how to work results in disagreements over the distribution of the rewards and burdens of the work process and over flexibility and managerial prerogatives. Language disagreements are based on formulating and interpreting. Local 10 and PMA don’t share the same vocabularies, and they don’t even agree on the language specifying the terms of their cooperation. They argue over which side’s understanding will be used in contract negotiations and in grievance processes. In acknowledging merit, both sides argue over defining a fair day’s pay, choosing supervision, determining skill, and promotion and salary differentiation.

In Part Five Wellman argues that like in the 1930s the fight over workplace control continues between the ILWU and PMA, but unlike then the matter is technically contractually settled on the employer’s side. Practically, it is not settled, and the ILWU uses the contract as a weapon. Though defensible disobedience, each side tries to gain the advantage over the other while staying within the language of the contract.

Three conditions are required for defensible disobedience. First, troubles must be translated into grievable issues. Longshoremen act on their complaints if they are defendable in the contact. “Good beefs” refer to complaints that leave the union with little to lose and everything to gain and are contact defendable. Second, both sides must keep the agreement. Both sides take advantage of the contract and stretch it to fit their needs, but a living contract must be maintained by appearing to keep their side of the bargain. Third, the appearance of cooperation must be maintained. Even when one side is taking advantage of the other, the impression of cooperation must be kept to maintain a living contract. Both sides maintain the appearance of reciprocity through the illusion of negotiation, saving face for the other side, and through the appearance of justice.

Posted by: kokoro | 30th Mar, 2009

Babson, Chapter 5

In chapter five Babson discusses the labor movement’s increasing vulnerability since the 1960s and 1970s. The labor movement was spilt in response to Vietnam, and employers took advantage of those weaknesses. AFL-CIO leadership was interested in supporting the status quo, but other members, particularly African Americans, women, and antiwar protesters, dissented. The UAW, for instance, spilt from the CIO and joined the Teamsters in a coalition (though only temporarily). Labor still made gains, with increasing unionization in the public sector and private sectors not previously federally protected, like hospitals workers and farmers. Nonetheless, while unions were considered effective in improving wages, protecting against unfair labor practices, and increasing job security, many people began to feel that labor leaders were in it for themselves.

As the gap between leaders and members grew and the labor movement fragmented, employers became more aggressive. Management reevaluated post-WWII accommodations with organized labor in response to the widening gap between union and nonunion wages (which put organized employers at a disadvantage), to the growth of the nonunion sector (which would make for low-cost-labor), and to the end of the dominance of corporations (which left management looking for low-cost alternatives). In the 1980s and into the 1990s, employers began using different tactics to fight unionism. Employers began using the 1939 private sector Mackay Radio Supreme Court decision that allowed employers to permanently replace striking workers as long as they were given the next first available positions. Of course, new positions were barely ever open. Corporations used a union avoidance policy involving psychological tactics rather than violence or intimidation, including warning workers of the negative aspects of unions. They also tried to cut unions out by emphasizing teamwork and empowerment in the workplace to give workers the impression of control.

John Sweeny became the president of the AFL-CIO in the 1990s and was able to help restore some of labor’s power. As the leader of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) he focused on organizing and using demonstrations and community pressure to challenge corporate power rather than focusing on reforming labor law. He brought those tactics to the labor movement on a larger scale. He also had many new concerns and organizational issues based on globalization and free trade. Ultimately, the labor movement can take lessons from 1930s organization, but those lessons can’t always be applied to union revival on the world scale.

Posted by: kokoro | 25th Mar, 2009

Cobble, The Other Woman’s Movement

Cobble writes about women working towards first-class economic and social citizenship for wage-earning women. She describes the labor women as “labor feminists” because they recognized and fought against sex discrimination. Also, the needs of the working-class were at the core of their principles, and they used the labor movement as a vehicle for bettering the lives of the majority of women.

Cobble describes the women’s labor movement as rising from Progressive Era “social feminism,” with a belief in social reforms. However, many labor women were at odds with “equal rights” feminists, because labor feminists felt that gender differences should be accommodated and that equality should be based on humanity not sameness with men.

The rise of labor feminism, Cobble points out, came from an increase of more women into paid work, WWII labor practices and government support and the resulting political and economic power of labor organization, and the growing power of women in the labor movement. In the years following the Depression, labor feminists fought for the end of sex discrimination, equal pay, a living or family wage, the revaluing of “women’s jobs,” shorter hours, and social supports from state and employers for childbearing and child rearing.

Cobble starts by describing the growth, and causes of that growth, of women unionists after the 1930s. Early on, few women held positions at the bargaining table or in official leadership, but they had powerful influence over decisions. In the 1940s women began to take on more leadership positions, and labor women focused on equality and social justice in many industries, including textiles, packing, electricity, communications, and automobiles. Cobble also describes these women as “labor liberals” because they were often more egalitarian and populist than many New Deal liberals. They took on a dual strategy of reform in the public, in the form of social welfare by the government, and private sector, employment practices, through legislation and collective bargaining. However, in the 1940s labor feminists made little headway despite gaining male allies in leftist unions. Resistance was strong from conservative employers and politicians, and well as from ERA feminists.

In the following chapters Cobble examines labor feminists’ attempts to change state and employer policies in the 1940s and 1950s. Labor women worked to secure the right of employment for all women no matter their martial status, race, class, etc., to upgrade “women’s jobs” instead of simply moving women into “men’s jobs,” and to gain equal pay for women through “equal pay for comparable work” laws. They also fought for a higher minimum wage for all, a living wage, for social supports for working pregnant women and mothers, and the recognition for the value of women’s unpaid work at home.

Cobble continues by focusing on the intellectual and organizational changes in labor feminism from the late 1950s to the present-ish. In the 1960s, the federal government extended New Deal practices and put an end to unfair sex discrimination, as well as other kinds of discrimination, in employment. Labor feminists also helped to lead the new woman’s movement at the end of the ‘60s. With younger leadership, the movement took on new issues, such as dissolving the sexual division of labor. However, old concerns remained important, particularly issues of childcare and wages.

Posted by: kokoro | 18th Mar, 2009

Lipsitz, Rainbow at Midnight, Chapter 12

As a big classic movie fan, I found Lipsitz’s reading very interesting. As reflections of their time, movies are just as important an historical source as written documents or oral testimonies, and they deserve just as much consideration.

Hollywood depicted the working-class in a contradictory light in the early 1940s, but in the postwar environment of anti-labor, the depictions became less frequent and less favorable.

The traditional genres of gangster films, family melodramas, westerns, and social-problem films all turned away from the class considerations they had during the 1930s. Gangster films turned towards psychological exploration rather than class tensions. Family melodramas stopped focusing on ethnicity and class and more towards parent-child tensions. Social-problem films consider issues of ethnicity and race but turned away from class issues.

The turmoil of the 1940s also brought about two new film genres, film noir and film gris. Film noir often used urban working-class environments, with stories focused on isolation, guilt, frustration, powerlessness, and betrayal. Film noir reflected the social contradictions of the time. It expressed motivations behind organization and striking by emphasizing community, fear of isolation, hostility to authority, and the struggle for a better life. However, through paranoid delusions of conspiracy, assaults from the outside and betrayal from the inside, film noir also reflected the American cold war rationale that the country was forced into action by aggressive foreign enemies and subversive forces at home.

Film noir and film gris utilized working-class settings, and the works of directors Edward Dmytryck, Herbert Biberman, Edgar Ulmer, and Nicholas Ray represented working-class culture and concerns through various points-of-view. Monopoly in the film industry, direct censorship, government repression, and a decline in movie attendance combined to limit these directors’ efforts. Nonetheless, working-class images continued to serve important functions for middle-class filmmakers.

Posted by: kokoro | 17th Mar, 2009

Korstad, Civil Rights Unionism, Chapters 10-15

In chapters ten and eleven Korstad focuses on Local 22’s political involvement outside of the workplace. Local 22 became the largest black led local in the South, and voting rights and education were at the top of its agenda, as it worked to enfranchise and mobilize the black and white poor of the South. The CIO created Political Action Committees (PACs), and in 1944 Local 22 created its own. Following the war, Local 22 met with the president, lobbied Congress, and helped to revitalize the NAACP in the South, as well as register voters and support candidates. Local 22 worked to spread unionism to the tobacco belt in the eastern half of North Carolina, as a part of Operation Dixie. Operation Dixie was an attempt by the CIO to rally and organize southern workers in the workplace, ballot box, and community.

Chapters twelve through fifteen examine the difficulties civil rights unionism faced going into the 1950s. In 1947 the biracial coalition elected to the Winston-Salem Board of Alderman the first African American to win against a white opponent in the South since the turn-of-the-century disenfranchisement of blacks. However, Local 22 took several blows as a result of the Taft-Hartley Act (a result of the Republican take over in the federal government), rifts forming in the CIO and isolation from liberal anti-Communist allies (as part of the collapsing progressive coalition), local antagonism in the form of red baiting, and electoral manipulation. The 1947 strike showed that the union could not completely prevent production anymore, and the new contract with Reynolds, which proved to be the last, gave the company more concessions than it had won in the past. Local 22 could no longer count on government intervention or support from broad-based labor mobilization.

Continuing charges of Communist domination attempted to break the union and prevent change by dividing leaders from the rank-and-file, separating unions from black middle-class, and scaring white workers and anti-Communist liberals. Challenges to Jim Crow were equated to Communism. Nonetheless, Local 22 continued to organize. It turned its attention to white workers, where racism, job competition, and the company’s dividing strategies had prevented much success. The FTA focused recruiting young people, especially women, and it concerned itself with white working-class culture and the bread-and-butter demands that concerned both whites and blacks.

In 1948 the FTA refused to sign the Taft-Hartley anti-Communist affidavits and the Reynolds workers lost NLRB protections. Reynolds refused to recognize the union or take part in collective bargaining. Refusal to sign the affidavits also damaged FTA’s CIO support and black-middle class support. Politics in the South were also changing. White supremacy started to moderate its more restrictive and discriminatory aspects, while maintaining its fundamentals. Whites created partnerships with the black middle-class to give the appearance of race relation reform, and they created the Community Relations Project (CRP), which spent money to improve blacks’ conditions and create job opportunities. They transferred power from elected officials to appointed committees and diluted black voting strength with gerrymandering. Reynolds also took part in welfare capitalism that expanded workers’ benefits, conditions, and wages. By improving black opportunities and conditions, along with an alternate form of leadership, white supremacy was maintained, the union had less appeal, and the workers’ movement was delegitimized.

The FTA signed the affidavits in 1949, but Local 22 was left to compete with the TWIU-AFL, which focused on white workers, and the United Transport Service Employees (UTSE), which focused on civic leaders to win support. With competition and smearing from competing unions, increasing anti-Communism, little support from political leaders and the black middle-class, and the collapse of the Southern Front, Local 22 never regained its footing.

Nonetheless, Local 22 had an impact. Reynolds maintained workers’ benefits, higher wages, and the seniority system. While policy making moved back behind doors, blacks continued voting in high numbers, keeping an African American on the city’s board at all times. The gradual integration of Winston-Salem also prevented much of the resistance seen in other southern areas, at least until the black protests against gradualism in the 1960s. Civil rights unionism in the 1940s represented the primary form of black mobilization against racial discrimination and second-class citizenship. As a broad movement for social change, mass protests and organization allowed for victories at the local and federal level.