Labor-saving devices

Kusnet, David

LABOR-SAVING DEVICES UNIONS TRY THE NEW SOFT-SELL DAVID KUSNET ore than eight thousand people gathered in the Miami Beach Convention Center on the evening of July 29 for an unusual kind of...

...Believing in an idealistic conception of unionism as a movement with a mission to change society, generations of radicals have attacked this implicit bargain as "business unionism" a kind of occupational insurance policy where the worker pays the union his premium and gets a measure of economic security in return...
...This self-examination began undramatically five years ago, when AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland appointed a special committee to "review and evaluate changes that are taking place in America in the labor force, occupations, industries, and technology...
...Miami's' 'Jobs with Justice'' rally part of a series of similar events planned for cities throughout the country was an effort at revival, revival of a labor movement that in recent years has attracted public attention mostly for losing political influence, economic clout, and public esteem...
...But other initiatives, particularly those endorsed by a recent AFL-CIO report that has come to symbolize labor's self-examination, deemphasize the congregational aspects of unionism and stress its role as a service organization that can provide a new generation of workers with job training, legal insurance, and even low-cost credit cards...
...The assignment might sound technical and the group's name, Committee on the Evolution of Work, was unprepossessing...
...When people got up to testify, they spoke not of their own sins but of their employers...
...In leaflets for secretaries, social workers, psychologists, and other white-collar employees, we urged them to choose "professional representation," which would benefit them at the bargaining table, in their government bureaucracies, and in legislative bodies at the local, state, and national levels...
...Louis, UAW members refused overtime, held lunch-time rallies, and marched into management offices to complain about unsafe conditions...
...In this campaign which is also endorsed by the Industrial Union Department union activists ask their co-workers to participate in just five events a year: possibly, a rally, a picket line, political canvassing, or leafleting a plant gate...
...Asked to evaluate their jobs, 51 percent of these workers claimed they are "very satisfied," a finding unsurprising to any shrewd union organizer...
...Change is coming to American labor several decades later than to other major institutions...
...In the collective bargaining arena, "The Report" recommends that unions adjust to the individualism of today's workers, particularly white-collar professionals, by abandoning the rigidity of hard-and-fast contracts setting the same pay, benefits, and work rules for everyone...
...An unquestioned leader in achieving much of the social progress of the past half-century, the AFL-CIO was nonetheless conservative in maintaining its own traditions while the world changed around it...
...But, as the Reagan era draws to a close, there are definitely signs of change in the air...
...and rank-and-file unionists would ask their neighbors to support labor-endorsed candidates...
...At a time when strikes are increasingly risky, this strategy keeps the workers on the job and in the workplace but demonstrating their solidarity and causing trouble for their employer...
...During the turbulent sixties and seventies while the churches, the universities, and the Democratic party each took a hard look at themselves and submitted to wrenching processes of reform, organized labor or at least its major national institution, the AFL-CIO seemed immune to self-examination, much less selftransformation...
...Presenting unionism in this way raised the hackles of veteran unionists blooded in the labor wars of the thirties and forties and also younger radicals who saw unionism as a way to continue the struggles of the sixties...
...The Report," as it has come to be known in union circles, began with the grim and familiar statistics revealing a sharp decline in union membership as a percentage of the work force, down from 35 percent in 1954 to less than 18 percent three decades later...
...teachers would ask computer programmers to consider organizing...
...Not only the concept of union membership but the concept of citizenship itself would take on new meaning...
...In these industries, organizers are searching for new ways to conduct old-fashioned union evangelism: not by appealing to workers as isolated individuals but by melding individuals into a fighting force...
...As with other organizations that demand dues, activism, and even personal sacrifices from those who join, unions offer tangible benefits to their members...
...Whether labor will emphasize mass movements or mass marketing or a combination of these approaches remains david kusnet directed publicity in organizing campaigns for the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME...
...Instead of the high-tech strategies of "The Report" and the public sector unions, the blue-collar unionists are reviving the oldest union tactics of all: activating the members through personal contact, confrontational tactics on the shop floor, and marches and rallies on the city streets...
...Workers from different industries and walks of life were urged to recognize their common problems and common interests and make a renewed commitment to the cause of labor solidarity...
...From the founding of the American Federation of Labor more than a century ago, the labor movement has had a dual identity, part social movement, part service agency...
...Sixty-five percent of non-members agreed that "unions force members to go along with decisions they don't like...
...s an organizer and publicist in AFSCME campaigns from 1976 through 1984,1 can now confess or brag that we helped create a new vocabulary of union organizing that emphasized the representation unions offer, while downplaying confrontation with the employer and even the word "union" itself...
...If significant numbers of unionists make such a seemingly modest commitment, unionism could become a vibrant movement again, not only in union strongholds like New York, Chicago, or Detroit, but in virtually any community with even one major unionized workplace an auto plant, the phone company, or the school system...
...Indeed, in this year's round of Labor Day punditry, in addition to the usual dirges for American unionism, there were predictions from sources as unlikely as the Wall Street Journal and conservative commentator Kevin Phillips that, after years of decline, the labor movement may finally be making a comeback...
...In particular, these associate memberships would be offered to workers who have left unionized jobs, workers who want to organize unions at their workplaces, and others who are interested in the package of services a union can offer...
...In Texas, Louisiana, and other states, the American Federation of Teachers begins its organizing campaigns with mailings offering teachers' liability insurance, travel plans, a professional magazine, discount legal help, and a voice in the education reform process...
...This brand of unionism is best suited for white-collar work forces that enjoy relatively peaceful relationships with their employers for instance, public employees in the Northeast and Midwest...
...The AFL-CIO's Industrial Union Department published a booklet entitled "The Inside Game" explaining how to involve union members in new tactics at the work site...
...And they "by and large see themselves as independent, self-confident, self-reliant, and skeptical of chains of authority...
...To the outside world, the movement's public face was George Meany's: the gruff, octogenarian patriarch whose views of unionism and society itself were shaped before the social revolutions of the thirties and appeared hostile to those of the sixties...
...In Ohio, AFSCME won fifty thousand new members with a low-key campaign stressing the union's role as a "new voice for state employees," defeating the Communications Workers, Hospital Workers, and other unions, all of which took a more traditional approach...
...They are individualists who believe their futures are in their own hands and are reluctant to offer unconditional loyalty to an employer or a union...
...He was a speechwritei for the late AFSCME President Jerry Wurf and for Walter Mondale during the 1984 campaign...
...The AFL-CIO report updates this brand of service-agency unionism by proposing new services that unions can provide, new forms of representation they can offer on the job, and even new forms of union membership...
...Instead, unions could negotiate minimum guarantees and leave individual employees free to bargain for their own pay, benefits, and working conditions...
...Fifty-four percent agreed "unions increase the risk that companies will go out of business...
...unionism as profound as that of Vatican II on the Catholic church...
...Some of these initiatives resemble "Jobs with Justice" evangelical efforts to fire up current members and recruit new ones to the fighting faith of solidarity...
...So it is especially remarkable that, for the past five years, American labor has been engaged, not only at the grassroots level but in its highest councils in a remarkable process of self-criticism acknowledging its failures, reshaping its public image, and, perhaps most painfully of all, questioning the very nature of the service it offers...
...Labor, then, shares a common dilemma with churches, community groups, and any other institution that tries to bring Americans together: How to promote collective action in what may be the most individualistic society on earth...
...If there was a devil to be denounced, he had human form: Frank Lorenzo, chairman of Texas Air, which owns Eastern Airlines, and under whose regime the company has been taking a tough line against employees and their unions...
...At a cost of $50-a-year considerably less than the dues for most unions working people would become "associate members" of unions in their industries, receiving job counseling, union publications, and discounted services such as the new credit card...
...hese findings paint a portrait of today's worker far different from the figures portrayed in the mural on the ground floor of the AFL-CIO's headquarters: assembly-line operatives and building tradesmen who expected to work at basically the same job for all their lives and understood that their own futures were linked with their unions...
...The new "Jobs with Justice Campaign" is one of many new initiatives being undertaken by an old movement...
...and 52 percent believe that unions fight change...
...Sixty-three percent said they believe union leaders, not the members themselves, decide whether to go on strike...
...However, the same workers did see a role for employee organizations which they imagined would be different from traditional unions...
...Today's workers of at least their self-images are at once more traditionally American and more contemporary...
...Only 40 percent said they are satisfied with their opportunity to participate in decisions affecting their jobs, and only 28 percent said they are very satisfied with their opportunity for career advancement...
...unionists across the country have ordered so many copies, it has gone into four printings...
...The "Jobs with Justice" campaign that rallied eight thousand workers in Miami is an effort to take membership mobilizing tactics out of the workplace and into the community...
...Large corporations might change their logos and their names, if not their ways of doing business, but the AFL-CIO entered the eighties as much the same institution that had been founded a quarter-century before...
...Acting on the recommendations of its report, the AFL-CIO now offers members a "Union Privilege Mastercard'' the lowest-priced nationally distributed credit card and plans to provide other discounted services, including life insurance, legal services, supplemental health benefits, and even Individual Retirement Accounts...
...To such an audience, labor's message of solidarity is, as a labor priest once said, "inherently countercultural...
...Once again, telephone workers would join picket lines at nursing homes...
...in today's America, it is virtually an admission of failure for a working person, particularly a white-collar worker, to acknowledge dissatisfaction with his or her job...
...Miami's sizable and spirited labor rally was a sign that the movement's decline may be exaggerated and its revival may be unrecognized...
...While noting that the drop in union membership results largely from the decline in heavily unionized industries such as auto and steel, "The Report" made clear that the fault also lies with the union movement itself...
...to be seen...
...Labor's Vatican II like other efforts at self-examination by major institutions has pumped new life into an old movement and legitimized all manner of innovations...
...Without going on strike, the Moog workers won a contract providing a 36 percent increase in pay and benefits over forty months and unionists 528: Commonweal around the country took notice...
...Two years after "The Report," what was once a heresy is now orthodoxy...
...owever, on labor's old battlefronts the Northeastern nursing home which cheats its workers out of overtime pay, the Midwestern factory where the company is demanding I give-rn nursing home which cheats its workers out of overtime pay, the Midwestern factory where the company is demanding give-backs, or the Southern textile mill where management fires employees suspected of union sympathies these soft-sell tactics are part of a future that hasn't happened yet...
...In fact, "The Report" reflects many of the tactics used years earlier by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), almost half of whose members work at white-collar government jobs...
...But, during the seventies and eighties, the union-as-white-collar-service-agency has proven attractive to government workers, employees of educational institutions, and other workers from the service sector, particularly in workplaces where employers offer relatively little resistance to union organizing...
...But, as Gus Tyler, assistant president of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, observed, this 526: Commonweal committee may have "a potential impact on U.S...
...Clearly, there is a potential constituency for organizations dedicated to improving workers' jobs...
...At the Moog Automotive Plant in St...
...They seek' 'high discretion as well as high pay" on the job, and "the striking new factor is a shift in which Americans are less likely to see work as a straight economic transaction providing a means of survival and more likely to see it as a means of self-expression and selfdevelopment...
...For anyone who believes in the values of community, it's more inspiring to imagine unionists walking each others' picket lines than peddling credit cards and IRA's...
...or three years, the committee listened to a variety of voices not usually heard by top labor leaders, including outside experts such as Harvard economists Richard Freeman and James Medoff and the pollster Louis Harris, who helped review public opinion research from the past quarter-century and conducted additional surveys...
...The union was presented as a highly professional service agency, with a staff of economists, lawyers, researchers, negotiators, and lobbyists just the kind of organization government employees would want to have working in their behalf...
...But it's a bargain that has bene25 September 1987: 527 fited generations of workers who, wearied by the demands of jobs and families, have limited their participation in their unions to paying their dues, honoring picket lines during strikes, and, more often than not, voting for labor-endorsed candidates...
...The brand of redemption preached at the rally was decidedly of this world...
...Yet non-union workers took a dimmer view of the existing labor movement than of . their own work situations...
...The pace of change" is reflected in the experience arid attitudes of today's workers...
...Indeed, as unions become entrenched, they offer their members an implicit business proposition: Pay us dues, and in return we will negotiate a contract with your employer providing you with better pay, fringe benefits, and working conditions, and, on top of that, we'll represent you in any individual problems you may have on the job...
...LABOR-SAVING DEVICES UNIONS TRY THE NEW SOFT-SELL DAVID KUSNET ore than eight thousand people gathered in the Miami Beach Convention Center on the evening of July 29 for an unusual kind of revival meeting...
...In addition, a majority would be'willing to pay up to $50 a year for membership in an organization that provided such benefits as health and legal insurance, discounts on consumer goods, and low-cost credit cards...
...Sixty-one percent of non-union workers said they would be interested in joining an organization that provides information about job training and job opportunities, and almost half favored collective action on issues like on-thejob grievances...
...But the same worker who may be persuaded to embrace the concept of solidarity might originally have joined the union because it offered consumer credit, job counseling, or other services...
...Louis and endorsed by the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO...
...57 percent believe that "unions stifle individual initiative...
...Mobilizing the membership at the work site is the essence of the "in-plant strategy" developed by a United Auto Workers (UAW) local in St...
...And, in what may be the most revolutionary recommendation of all, "The Report" suggests new forms of membership for workers who want to join unions but are not covered by union contracts...
...And, in a campaign to organize white-collar employees at Blue Cross and Blue Shield an employer which depends heavily on union-negotiated health plans a coalition' of unions spearheaded by the AFL-CIO is stressing our old AFSCME slogan: "strong representation...
...But pressed further, most workers did admit to a measure of dissatisfaction, not so much with their paychecks as with their lack of power and prospects...
...They are likely to work at many different jobs perhaps at several careers in several industries during their lifetimes...
...And a process that began with the question of how to appeal to workers as individuals may yet result in building new bonds of solidarity among them...
...In words difficult to imagine Meany sanctioning, much less speaking, the report acknowledged the simple truth: "Unions find themselves behind the pace of change...
...Eventually the committee issued a tightly written, thirty-four-page report,' 'The Changing Situation of Workers and Their Unions," which discussed the labor movement's problems with unusual forthrightness and offered recommendations that until recently would have been considered heretical...

Vol. 114 • September 1987 • No. 16


 
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