Archive for March, 2009

Posted by: kokoro | 12th Mar, 2009

Korstad, Chapters 1-9

Korstad begins in chapter one by describing the 1943 R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company strike in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. UCAPAWA began organizing tobacco workers with the Tobacco Workers Organizing Committee (TWOC) in 1942. The strike at Reynolds starts in response to the threatened firing of a woman and the death of a man due to overwork. The demands included decreased workload, increased wages, respect from foreman, and union recognition. 10,000 Reynolds workers refused to work, 56% of them women and 60% of them black, which led to a general strike in Winston-Salem, despite wartime no-strike pledges.

Korstad spends chapters two through six setting the context of the strike and what the workers were fighting against. He describes the rise of the Reynolds Company and the political and economic control it used to institute a social order in the town based on white supremacy, which extended beyond just race into class and gender hierarchies as well. He describes the growth of Winston-Salem, and how black community life, including how tensions between classes and how religion, music, and sports played a part in union organization as much a workplace politics. He then goes on to examine workplace conditions and the racial divisions that occurred in the Reynolds factory and beyond. Finally, he looks at how the Communist Party, New Deal policies, and wartime opportunity supported civil rights activism and unionism in the 1940s.

Chapter seven and eight examine the negotiations between Reynolds and the workers. The National War Labor Board resolved the conflict, and the National Labor Rights Board certified the union and collective bargaining for the workers at Reynolds. A negotiation committee was created, made up of whites, blacks, men, women, skilled, and unskilled workers. The workers fought for better wages, union security, vacations, and seniority rights, all of which had economic, political, and cultural significance.

Chapter nine focuses on the attempts of the union to consolidate its victories and keep worker solidarity. Local 22 made efforts to develop leaders, programs, and policies to create an effective voice for the workers and to enact democratic social change. The union helped workers develop administration skills and expanded their political educations, and it worked to break down the barriers to solidarity that white supremacy created by encouraging black and white cross cultural exchange.

Posted by: kokoro | 10th Mar, 2009

Babson, Chapter 4

According to Babson, in the years between 1941 and 1965, the nature of the relationship between labor, management, and government regulators resulted in union legitimacy and permanence. However, reliance on bureaucracy and the political agenda of the Democratic Party led to a decrease in labor’s capacity for social and political change. Labor during this period was shaped by the war, the Cold War, and black civil rights.

Management often ignored the grievance process, resulting in “quickie” strikes. In 1940, the UAW-GM agreement led to the use of a neutral third-party umpire to arbitrate concerns between workers and management. The need for stability in production during the war created the National War Labor Board (NWLB) to solve disputes. The NWLB established precedents for the future. The board was made up of twelve members with workers, managers, and public citizens (who often broke ties between management and labor). The board forced companies to except a union shop, in which workers must join the union upon hiring, and third-party arbitration as alternatives to strikes. However, business leaders once again became prominent and were able to work the NWLB to their advantage.

The UMW strikes in 1943 led to the War Labor Disputes Act that enabled the president to end strikes on government property and take legal action against strikers, and it also encouraged more strikes during the war, despite labor’s pledge of cooperation to the government.

1945-47 had the biggest strike wave in American history, which represented some turning points. The companies brought in no strikebreakers, and as a result there was little violence. Strikers were not racially or ethnically fragmented. The fight was no longer over the right of union existence, but rather about the bargaining relationship between capital and labor. Finally, it proved that management could be forced to pay workers more, but it was not compelled to have negotiators or government regulators interfere with the running of the company. The 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, which overhauled the National Labor Relations Act into maintaining the status quo, passed as Republicans took control of the government.

The Cold War and the Red Scare led to a split between liberal and moderate labor and the leftist Communist Party minority. With the revival of competition between rival unions, labor unity dissolved between 1947 and 1950, and compliance with conformity by the labor movement created less mobilization of social change.

Challenging the status quo equaled unpatriotic, and unions past support of interracial quality came to mean Red support. These racial connections made postwar mobilization against unions especially strong in the South, and led to labor’s decline at the forefront of civil rights activism.

However, LBJ’s election and the return of a pro-labor Congress in the 1960s led to labor legislative victories in 1964-65, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with its fair employment practices. Nonetheless, the trends of support from the government resulted in passivity within the labor party and the demobilization of grass roots efforts for change. The changes in labor relations created by the New Deal gave labor legitimacy, but also made the movement vulnerable to political changes in the government, and the labor movement began to revert back to business unionist concerns for better wages and working conditions rather than industrial unionist concerns of social and political change.