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.

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