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With the interest shown and questions raised in yesterday's post about labor and YearlyKos, I thought I'd follow up with this adaptation of a series of posts I wrote on my own blog a number of years ago.  It starts with a personal story from my first job as a union organizer in Las Vegas nearly twenty years ago, then talks about what unions do to raise wages, how they help the economy, and why they matter for progressive politics.  It'll be a bit long but it can hopefully give links and references that folks can followup with at their leisure.

Why Unions? Human Dignity

You can start at the AFL-CIO's own site on Why People Join Unions for some basic information.

But I'm going to start today with a more personal story of why I came to be so committed to labor unionism.

Going to Las Vegas: My first job out of college in the late 80s was as a union organizer in the casinos of Las Vegas. This was a time when the union was facing an all-out assault by the new corporate-owned casinos seeking to destroy the union and hoping to open the coming era of mega-theme casinos non-union.

But it was a tough set of union members there, despite being in "right to work for less" Nevada. And as I got to know different folks, often sitting in the employee cafeteria, I found that some of the most militant unionists were the cocktail waitresses who served drinks to the high-rolling gamblers at the gaming tables.

Not exactly your classic stereotype of a Vegas cocktail waitress- a gaggle of Norma Raes?

There was a reason.

If you pay attention, especially in the longer-established casinos like Caesar's Palace, you'll notice that the waitresses at the fanciest tables are pretty but rarely that young. You'll find the young things dishing drinks to the regulars pulling the slots. To handle drinks at the expensive tables, where the tips flow large, you had to have been at the casino for many years.

And that had been a battle to achieve.

Fight for Dignity: Early on in Vegas, the casino owners wanted to stick the youngest waitresses on those tables, so if you aged a few years as a cocktail waitress, you often found yourself consigned to siberia in the casino. Or worse, you had the best positions handed out by supervisors based on who would do "favors" for them.

At least they couldn't be fired just for getting old because of the basic union contract -- and this was true before age discrimination legislation was passed in Congress -- but the indignity of sex discrimination in all its forms was harshly at play for Vegas cocktail waitresses.

So they organized.

They first had to kick the butts of their own then-male labor leaders back in the early 1970s to take the issue seriously, but the union took up the cause and forced changes into the union contract. From that day forward, all "stations" in a casino would be bid on based on seniority. The best spots would go to the waitresses with the longest tenure, no favoritism or age discrimination allowed.

That is what unions get you-- the right not to be told you are too old to be presentable in public. The right not to have a supervisor play favoritism and demand you degrade yourself in order to feed your family.

Not for Sale: In unionized casinos, a rich high-roller can buy himself the fanciest penthouse in the hotel. He can buy the fanciest food. He can buy almost anything.

But when he sits at the craps table, the one thing he can't buy is that the woman serving his drinks be replaced by the youngest girl in the house.

'Cause in a union shop, human dignity is not for sale.

It's a small story but it's repeated millions of times over in many different ways for workers using unions to find a voice at work and escape from arbitrary work conditions. And it's why I'll be a union person til the day I die.

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How Unions Increase Pay

The fact that unions increase wages is the most basic fact that most people understand about unions, but it's still worth understanding the details.

Start with this basic AFL-CIO summary and this UAW fact sheet. For a more indepth discussion of the union wage gain, see this new Economic Policy Institute paper.

These are the highlights:

The Union Wage Premium

Here are the basic significant premiums that union members earn over non-union members:

This is true not because unions organize in higher pay industries (although some industries have higher pay because they have been unionized), but this premium applies between workers within the same industry. In fact, the union wage premium is even higher in low-wage occupations: "For example, union cashiers may earn $10.97 per hour, 36 percent more than nonunion workers in the same occupation." Check this graph:

Average Hourly Earnings of Selected Occupations- 2004

Despite the old stereotype of unions being about white guys, the union wage preminum is higher for minority groups and women than for white men. (And a higher percentage of blacksthan whites are union members.)

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Unions increase wages for non-union workers

One of the less understood facts is that while unions increase wages for members, they also increase wages for non-union workers. When you stop and think about it, this should not be surprising. In industries where unions push up wages, the non-union companies often have to raise wages to compete for the best workers.

Even where an employer could run a company on low wages, high union density means that a union organizer can show up, flash the higher wages in the contract and threaten to unionize the firm. To stave off that threat, those employers will raise salaries toward the union wage level.

The higher the percentage of unionization -- often called union density -- in an industry or a region, the higher the wages for both union AND non-union workers.

How this works out is illustrated in a case study of the hotel industry in this paper by Laura Dresser and Annette Bernhardt which revealed that:

...union wages were higher than non-union wages, but just slightly so (the premium within any one city ranged from 25 cents per hour to $1.70). Far more important was union density. As a VP of Hotel Operations for a major hotel observed: "In a union town, you pay if you're non-union. In a non-union town, you pay if you're union."

The highest paying hotels in our study, whether unionized or not, were located in high-density cities. In these hotels, housekeepers start at well over $10.00 per hour (and in one city, both union and non-union hotels pay over $13.00). By contrast, the worst paying hotels in our study were located in a low-density city, where housekeeping wages started between $6.00 and $7.00 per hour, regardless of whether the hotel was unionized or not.6 Waddoups (1999) documents this density effect for Las Vegas, finding that nonunion workers there earn wages approximately 19% higher than their nonunion counterparts in other cities, other things being equal. Our case study finding on the important wage effect of union density also echoes more representative studies across industries.

According to such broader research cited in the Economic Policy Institute's study, "the average nonunion worker in an industry with 25% union density had wages 7.5% higher because of unionization's presence." These effects are very strong for workers with less education, although college educated non-union workers seem to benefit less from unionization in their fields.

Strikingly, "because the nonunion sector is large, the union effect on the overall aggregate wage comes almost as much from the impact of unions on nonunion workers as on union workers."

To repeat that-- non-union workers actually gain more income collectively from the presence of unions than union members themselves.

ALL WORKERS benefit from increases in unionization-- some workers are just paying the dues and risking their jobs to advocate their formation, while other workers are passively benefiting from those economic gains. But these basic facts-- often obscured in discussions of unions -- should increase recognition of why unions are so critical to the economic well-being of so many workers across the country. And if the threat of unionization was not there, even workers in less unionized areas would suffer that much more.


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Who is in Unions

There is a stereotype that unions organize mostly white, better-off workers.

But here's something that goes against conventional wisdom. The average black worker is more likely to be in a union than a white worker-- in fact, African American men and women have among the highest unionization rates of U.S. workers (18 percent and 16 percent, respectively) compared to lower rates for white women (11 percent) and white men (14 percent). And while unionization rates for white workers has declined since 1983, the rate of unionization has risen by 39 percent among Latinos since the early 1980s. See herefor more.

And the largest new organizing is happening among the lowest paid workers, notably among the hundreds of thousands of home health aides who have organized across the country in recent years. Check out this press release on the 124,000 new workers organized in 2002 by Service Employees International Union (SEIU), one of the largest unions due its intensive organizing in recent years.

The idea that unions are obsessed with rigid work rules may be true in a few building trades unions, but is just dead wrong in most of the labor movement where fighting for health care for present members is probably the top priority and fighting for basic rights is the key among new members.


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Unions Strengthen the Economy

Before I hear the usual rightwing ramble about unions sinking the economy and driving jobs overseas, note two basic realities. First, look at Sweden, a country where almost all workers are unionized yet it has lower unemployment than the United States, better health care and more leisure for its workers. More dramatically, look at southern states in the US where unions are almost non-existent, yet jobs are hemmoraging overseas.

The myth that unions cost jobs comes from the fact that manufacturing was heavily unionized when the first bout of global competition hit in the 1970s. Today, with large chunks of manufacturing in the right-to-work South, there are still massive job loss despite lack of unions. We are seeing that if the game is who can drive wages down the most, the US can't go low enough to compete with China.

So the only answer is increasing productivity and innovation. And unions drive growth by improving both. Now, it's not as simple as that in all situations, since different employer strategies and industrial environments create varying outcomes, but when structured correctly, unions not only benefit individual workers, they strengthen the overall economy. I'll sketch out the dynamics researchers have noted driving this result, but for more empirical and theoretical detail, check out the classic book on the subject, Richard Freeman and James Medoff's What Do Unions Do. As well, you can work through these studies on the web (pdfs so they sometimes load slowly):

  • Trade Unionism and Growth: A Panel Data Study
  • The Decline or Expansion of Unions: A Bargaining Model With Heterogeneous Labor
  • Unions, Training and Wages: Evidence for British Men
  • Opportunities and Dilemmas: Labour and Regional Innovation
  • Training and Unions
  • Sectoral Strategies of Labour Market Reform

    The commonest metaphor for how unions strengthen the economy is that they force employers on to the "high road" of production-- concentrating on innovation rather than sweating workers, promoting skilled work versus unskilled low-wage labor, and encouraging investment in long-term productivity rather than short-term profits. Especially in a world of global competition, "low road" companies will inevitably lose to firms in developing nations which can always undercut them on price, so forcing companies into long-term investments in "high road" production is the only way US economic growth will sustain itself in the longer term.

    This operates in a few different ways

    Taking wages out of competition : Because unions often operate across multiple firms, they deter employers from seeking to gain advantages purely by who can slash wages and instead forces companies to compete on innovation. In the absence of unions, the availability of low-wage exploitation will encourage misdirection of to less productive firms that just are willing to abuse their workers.

    A Voice in Production: With a union, workers can gain a voice to improve production without worrying that they are merely contributing to their own loss of a job. Without union, workers fear that innovation will lead to speedups and layoffs, so it?s often more in their interest to privately exploit knowledge to ease the workload than share it with the employer. But in the union context of a labor contract, unions can be guaranteed a share in productivity gains so unions encourage more commitment to increasing productivity.

    Lowering turnover and improving skills: A standard conservative argument is that anyone who doesn't like the work conditions is always free to leave. While this is technically true, it's a pretty narrow choice to give someone. Far better is the democratic alternative that unions provide of workers being able to change work conditions through contract negotiations. This option of "voice" versus "exit" options -- as it's often referred to in labor analysis -- encourages less worker turnover and improves skills within a firm.

    Increasing capital investment: While employers don't have to like the higher wages paid to union workers, it forces them to invest in better technology and more capital to make the high wages pay for themselves. Firms can afford to use outdated technology when sweatshop workers make up for low productivity, but when you are paying union wages you rationally have to improve productivity in order to compete. Such higher productivity is key to growth across the economy and encourages new employment in the technology fueling capital investment in the unionized firms.

    Multi-firm cooperation: Partly because wages are taken out of competition, multi-firm unions have pioneered coopration between firms, especially within regions, in cooperation on investments in "public goods" such as worker training and other services improving productivity at all firms. Check out this listof such partnerships across the country. All of them encourage greater productivity and innovation in industries needing to compete in the global marketplace.

    Finally, unions encourage Keynesian growth strategies by raising incomes of workers and thereby raising aggregate demand for goods, fueling a virtuous cycle of growth. This effect is lessened within any single country due to global trade (i.e. higher wages may just lead to higher imports) but it is salient on a global level. As we see wage pressures downward not just in the United States but even some developing nations like Mexico and Turkey, it's easy to see the culprit being low-wage China where labor unions are banned and wages are forced down to the minimum.

    Conservatives spend a lot of propaganda effort trying to convince workers that a union contract raising their wages will somehow make them poorer. It's a nice rhetorical trick but if you read through the labor market literature or just apply common sense, the right's arguments don't make sense.

    Forcing companies to compete based on innovation rather than worker exploitation is the best way to force them to invest in long-term growth. Sweatshops will inevitably go off shore in any case, so the rhetorical lure that we can slash wages as a route to prosperity is just ridiculous. Stronger unions, smarter public investments and more industry cooperation to improve skils is a far better alternative to build economic growth.

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    No Progressive Policy w/o Labor

    There is some idea among progressives that labor matters, but they really don't usually understand either the historical extent of labor role in progressive policies.  

    Usually when labor in politics is discussed, it comes down to comparisons of PAC dollars contributed where labor is outspent12-1 by business, and is even outspent by corporate contributions within the Democratic Party.

    More than the PAC Dollars: But these numbers horribly understate the importance of labor in politics and for maintaining a progressive agenda. First, even within the Dems, their spending is the only serious financial counterweight to the corporate interests. And despite various Nader types that want to point to the nominal larger PAC dollars by business as evidence of labor irrelevance, that argument just ignores the far larger dollars spent by labor in educating and mobilizing their members for elections and political work.

    Conservatives sure recognize this fact, even if they may overstate the dollars. See this older essay by the National Right to Work committee or this more recent column by conservative Linda Chavez. Their hobby horse is of course the union members "coerced" to support candidates they might not like, although they never worry about the coerced consumer and shareholder dollars pumped into rightwing coffers without anyone asking permission. (I'll talk a bit about the ridiculousness of Beck and "payroll protection" in some other column).

    The bottom-line is that many liberals and the Nader left often understate the labor dominance in progressive electoral politics, the liberals doing so at times to marginalize labor and ignore their debt and the left to ideologically justify their stupid third party stances. The reality is that without labor money, progressives would be obliterated from political influence by corporate spending.

    Labor Dollars Worth More: But the real key to labor power is not the money they spend per se, but the fact that a dollar spent by labor is worth far more than a dollar spent by business interests. When labor spends a dollar, they can spend it not on a one-off communication, a ephemeral TV ad or whatever, but can instead use it to activate members as volunteers, who can then multiple the message to others for free. It is the money of labor combined with its democratic grass roots that creates any sort of level playing field for progressives in the political world.

    And this has been true from almost the beginning of the Republic. When labor strength has been high, progressive initiatives have been born. And when labor power wanes, conservatives and business interests have taken over. Every major advance in economic justice has depended on labor support over the years.

    19th Century: The first wave of worker organization would help establish in the 1840s the right of public education for children regardless of class in the North. That role for labor is agreed upon by both historians ("widespread demand for schooling from urban workers...Workers supported schools even though they depended on the wages of their children.") and conservative commentators("The primary supporters of Mann's drive [for public education]...included the trade unions, whose members benefited from the removal of children from the labor market.") (See also this accountof Chartism in the same period in Britain, from which many US educational reformers took their inspiration.)

    False Dawn of Progressive Era: Broad-based industrial unionism in the late 19th century, after a brief upsurge under the Knights of Labor, would be crushed by the Robber Barons, leaving largely the limited elite strata of skilled craft unions in the American Federation of Labor. This would limit progressive policy in the US for decades. With the rise of new militant unions like the American Clothing Workers Union (ACWU) and the radical Industrial Workers of the World, combined with the Socialist Party, the Progressive Era of the 1910s promised a false dawn of new progressive labor legislation (see Labor's Great War for one good account of the WWI era for labor.) But the crushing of militant labor unionism by the Red Scare and Palmer Raids -- the post-WWI anti-left crusade that makes McCarthyism look mild -- would usher in the pro-corporate policies of the 1920s.

    Labor and Rise of New Deal: In New York state in the 1920s, because of the survival of a strong labor movement, there would be a partial reshaping of New York statesocial policies that would be a precursor to the changes in the national politics that would come in the 1930s.

    But the crucial change was the formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) that led to an upsurge of organizing in the workplaces of America but also to a new broad-based progressive politics led by labor. The vehicle for this change was the first Political Action Committee, the CIO-PAC, which gave labor for the first time a coordinated national structure for involvement in politics. And the result in the 1936 election was a realignment of politics tied to the New Deal. Business substantially shifted its support to the Republicans, leaving the Democrats dependent on labor unions for the core of their political funding and support.

    Post-New Deal Surprise: After World War II and the death of Roosevelt, this New Deal politics seemed to be at an end, as Republicans took control of Congress and passed, over Truman's veto, the Taft-Hartley Act, which attacked the right to organize and largely destroyed left-leaning unions through making them ineligible to stand for elections in workplaces-- allowing more conservative unions to replace them.

    Still, while labor politics would lose some of its militancy, the surprise of 1948 was the establishment that labor-backed politics still could take on this rightwing assault. With the firm support of labor, Truman would pull off his surprise victory. As this chronicle from the Truman Library details:

    In 1948, as well, the labor movement became a more significant factor than it had ever been before in a Presidential election...While the labor effort was helpful in 1944, it was of much greater importance in 1948, when Democratic party organization was weak and defeatist; in many parts of the country the only strong local organization was provided by the labor unions. Labor, of course, had no greater faith in Truman's chances of election than did the party leadership, but it was eager to elect liberal Democrats to the Senate and House of Representatives; its strenuous effort on the part of local candidates inevitably helped the national ticket.
    And along with reelecting Truman, tha year ushered in a whole new generation of progressive labor-backed leaders like Hubert Humphrey who would dominate politics for the next generation. The merger of the AFL with the CIO in 1955 would cement both this broad-based political alignment and the turn to less militant politics.

    Labor and the Great Society: But less militancy still meant that with the 1960s, even as labor would come into opposition with progressive allies on the Vietnam War, it would remain the prime political backer of the Great Society, both electorally and in Congress. And despite the rap that labor looked out only for its own interests, one particular instance highlights how committed labor was to its broad-based social agenda, even at the expense of its own particular institutional needs. Since the passage of Taft-Hartley, labor has sought to reform the labor law, repeatedly facing Republican filibusters over the decades. In particular, labor has sought to repeal the so-called "right to work" 14(b) provisions of the labor code that allowed states to bar union security agreements in labor contracts.

    Yet in 1965, the Republican minority leader Senator Dirksen offered to cease opposition to 14(b) repeal if the AFL-CIO would agree not to resist a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's recent "one person, one vote" reapportionment of state legislatures. AFL-CIO leader George Meany's reply is worth remembering for those who dismiss labor as narrow and self-interested (and Meany is in many ways the emblem of such narrowness):

    As badly as I want 14(b) repealed, I do not want it that badly. And the Senate Minority Leader and all his anti-labor stooges can filibuster until hell freezes over before I will agree to sell the people short for that kind of a deal."
    This story is from Taylor Dark's The Unions and the Democrats: An Enduring Alliance, which details the ongoing core role of unions in the progressive Democratic agenda from the 1960s to today.

    Today: There is a lot to criticize in labor 's political efforts over the years, especially its aimlessness during the Lane Kirkland era of the 1980s, but its central role in preserving progressive social policy throughout this century is undeniable. Especially with a much sharper leadership at the national helm of most unions today, progressive activists need to understand why building the strength of unions institutionally is also a key to gains in the whole realm of progressive politics. Without strong unions, there will be no progressive policy in the long term.

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    Labor's Support for Civil Rights

    [Note the following history comes from a number of sources, including Working Class New York by Joshua Freeman, Parting the Watersby Taylor Branch and a number of other sources. Only scattered web links.]

    Unions and Civil Rights: Progressives fall too easily into thinking of unions as a "special interest" while ignoring the core role unions have played in the whole range of progressive social activism and legislation passed this past century. Nowhere is this truer than in the area of civil rights, where unions were the indispensable actors in mobilizing the grassroots and political power to win most civil rights battles in state and national legislatures. As importantly, they were the vehicles for economically and socially empowering millions of black workers to be able to fight for their rights more broadly.

    Yes, many union locals, especially in the building trades, were racist themselves in treatment of black members, but it's too easy to look at the partial failures of unions to live up to their ideals while ignoring the forest of civil rights leadership most unions and union leadership took. It is from the higher ideals unions publicly set for themselves that they failed, since throughout most of this period, they were far more integrated and more actively involved in fighting segregation than almost any major institution in society.

    Early Years While many craft locals of the original American Federation of Labor would exclude blacks from membership, African Americans would become a growing part of the membership of the emerging industrial unions, making up 20% of the United Mine Workers by 1900. And, much as the United Farm Workers would become a vehicle for latino pride in the 1960s and 70s, one union in particular would become the emblem of black empowerment in the early part of this century, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, organized in 1925 and then led by A. Phillip Randolph.

    Randolph is the most important civil rights leader most people have never heard of, despite being arguably more important to civil rights in the 20th century. The first black head of a labor union in the AFL, Randolph in many ways made the civil rights movement possible. He fought to desegregate defense factories in World War II, threatening to mount the first "March on Washington" during WWII. Roosevelt, fearing the political effects, agreed to establish the Fair Employment Practices Commission, the first major federal agency prosecuting discrimination in US industry. Randolph also fought with Truman to desegregate the US military. In 1963, it was Randolph who proposed the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

    Rise of the CIO: In the 1930s, the new industrial unions in the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), then breaking away from the old conservative AFL leadership, were in practice the the main civil rights institutions of their day. When dockworkers on the West Coast organized the ILWU in 1934, this was a major stepin ending discrimination on the docks, as the CIO unions in general gave black workers and their burgeoning demands for equal treatment new vehicles to organize within the workplace. Within four months of the CIO organizing, Black progressives from around the U.S. joined together in the formation of the National Negro Congress (NNC), which chose A. Phillip Randolph to be its President. The desgregation of many military contractors in WWII and the union wages paid would become the backbone of an emerging black working class that could take on greater civil rights campaigns, backed by the progressive union leadership that would become the strongest advocates available to support new civil rights legislation.

    During WWII, the CIO established a national Committee to Abolish Racial Discrimination to campaign for the end of segregation and after the war launched major organizing drives among the heavily black workforces of the US South-- a drive that was unfortunately stalled and largely defeated by the passage of the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act in 1947.

    Unions Lead Post-War Civil Rights Wave: Long before national legislation was passed, unions were campaigning for state-level anti-discrimination laws. When New York State passed the 1945 Quinn-Ives Bill, the first law anywhere in the country to prohibit discrimination in hiring, the state AFL and CIO labor federations supported it. The Chamber of Commerce, the American Bar Association and most of the business community fought the law, but the labor movement lined up to help push it through, despite provisions that explicitly targetted discrimination in unions themselves.

    In 1946, the United Auto Workers (UAW) helped lead a referendum vote in Michigan to pass a fair employment practices law. The same year, the UAW established as well an internal Fair Practices and Anti-Discrimination Department, sometimes too weak on union locals but still a platform within the union always pushing for greater worker equality and part of what made the UAW an outspoken public advocate for civil rights legislation in the nation. In the postwar period, unions were some of the staunchest funders of the Urban League, NAACP and other civil rights groups.

    Fighting Employment Discrimination: The more leftwing unions fought directly with employers to open up hiring to blacks: in the 1930s and after WWII, New York's Retail Drug Employees Union, 1199 (yes, the forefronner of the dominant New York health care union today), despite being largely white at the time, campaigned for black pharmacists to be hired. When an employer rejected a black applicant from the union hiring hall and racism was suspected, the union would ask other members to waive seniority in order to send out another black applicant to force hiring by the employers. The West Coast longshore union practiced affirmative action hiring in the wake of World War II, in order to make sure returning veterans with seniority would not "bump" out recently hired black members annd reverse the wartime gains in racial diversity on the docks.

    In the 1950s, the favorite political star of the labor movement was Minnesota's Hubert Humphrey, who was also the legislative hero of the civil rights establishment in the Senate. Humphrey had as mayor of Minneapolis in 1946 established a fair employment law plus the first permanent commission with enforcement powers in the country to give the law teeth. It was Humphrey, labor's champion, who was also the delegate at the 1948 Democratic Convention who pushed through the touch civil rights planks that led Strom Thurmond and the Dixiecrats to storm out of the Party.

    Birthing the modern civil rights movement: One product of the union movement who would become one of the most crucial if unsung fathers of the modern civil rights movement was E.D. Nixon, a leader in the Sleeping Car Porters union and a close associate of Philip Randolph. Nixon became president of the Voters League of Montgomery in 1944 and a statewide leader of the NAACP in Alabama. He was the initial organizer in building the Montgomery bus boycottand became chairman of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) which was formed to manage the boycott, even as the young minister Martin Luther King Jr. would be catapulted into fame during the campaign.

    As the 1960s protests took off, unions were in the forefront of supporting public demonstrations, even as they struggled internally with their more recalcitrant discriminatory locals. When the 1960 sit-ins began in southern Woolworth stores, the New York Central Labor Council organized picketing at the NYC Woolworth stores. On one day alone, the ILGWU garment union sent 800 picketers out.

    Funding the Movement: When in 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. and the children of Birmingham put 2000 protesters in jail, it was the union movement leadership -- and not just the liberal wing but leaders like AFL-CIO President George Meany often seen as more conservative -- who paid the $160,000 to bail them out so they could march again.

    Bayard Rustin, the chief hands-on organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, was on union payroll in New York and using a union office when he did his organizing for the March. Reverend King himself worked out of the national UAW headquarters himself during planning of the march. Sometimes forgotten in history is the July 1963 Detroit march for civil rights in July proceeding the national march, where 200,000 people marched down the streets of Detroit with UAW head Walter Reuther leading the march with Martin Luther King. In fact, the march's official name was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Unions like the United Auto Workers bussed in large numbers to the crowd that day.

    Crucified on a Picket Line: Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in Memphis in 1968, yet many people forget why he was there-- to support a unionization drive of black Memphis garbage workerswho were organizing under the auspices of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which had made the Memphis struggle a national cornerstone of their organizing efforts in southern cities.

    Martin Luther King Jr. knew he was risking his life, but also believed that the risk was worth it, since for workers seeking their civil rights, unionization was a key part of that struggle. As then, as today, the labor movement and the civil rights movement have advanced (and sadly been set back at times) together.

    Now, within labor and progressive circles, there is plenty of criticism for where the labor movement failed at times in its ideals of fighting discrimination, both in society and within its ranks. I recommend reading a few of the following pieces for some of that debate, but it's worth remembering that the labor movement, however haltingly at times, was far ahead of all other groups in leading the charge for civil rights. Without the labor movement, the major civil rights laws would probably never have been passed, or at least it would have taken many more years.
    * See Bayard Rustin's The Blacks and the Unions and this debateon the role of the AFL-CIO and the UAW in pushing civil rights

    Why Unions Have Trouble Organizing Workers

    Many folks ask why unions have so much trouble expanding if they continue to benefit workers with unions so dramatically.

    The simple answer is fear of being fired. Which happens pervasively in union drives. Just to use a source that is not necessarily pro-union, read this article from Business Week looking specifically at Wal-Mart in the broader context of harassment against union activists. Some key excerpts:

    Fully half of all nonunion U.S. workers say they would vote yes if a union election were held at their company today, up from about 40% throughout the 1990s, according to polls by Peter D. Hart Research Associates Inc. Yet unions lose about half of the elections they call.

    One big reason: Over the past two decades, Corporate America has perfected its ability to fend off labor groups...companies facing labor drives routinely employ all the tactics Wal-Mart has used to get workers to change their minds. Many of these actions are perfectly legal, such as holding anti-union meetings or inundating workers with anti-union literature and videos.

    Those that are illegal carry insignificant penalties, such as small fines or posting workplace notices about labor rights. Firing activists--as companies do in fully one-quarter of union drives, according to studies of NLRB cases--is difficult to prove and takes years to work through the courts. That's long after a drive has lost steam. Workers may want unions, "but the question is whether [labor] can overcome the fear generated by an employer's campaign to get them to take the risk," says Kate Bronfenbrenner, a Cornell University researcher who did the studies.

    The raw number is 20,000 workers are retaliated against every year for union activity.  20,000 people.  See American Rights at Work for more on the weaknesses of US labor law in protecting the freedom to form a union.  

    Under the Taft-Hartley law passed by Congress in 1947 (and amended slightly a few years later), unions lost most of the tools of solidarity strikes and other tools that allowed them to organize broadly in the 1930s. So workers end up facing off against giant multinational corporations without being able to seek support from other unions. For example, if workers at Wal-Mart are fired illegally, workers at firms doing business with Wal-Mart cannot take strike or picket action in protest against their own companies supporting a union-buster. Non-Wal-mart companies cannot negotiate contracts where their employers refuse to do business with Wal-Mart. Such bans on "secondary boycotts" and "hot cargo" agreements leaves workers isolated against the combined massive power of a corporation like Wal-Mart.

    So, essentially, you have the government issuing meaningless penalties against union-busters, while that same government threatens massive sanctions against unions if they engage in solidarity support themselves for workers facing illegal firings or harassment.

    Here are some more sources on information on union-busting in the United States:
    Labor Research Associates Union Busting info page

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    Conclusion

    But despite these obstacles, unions continue to organize new workers.  Yes, they are losing some in industries being downsized, but there are still over 15 million union members across the country, a massive number of folks contributing something on the order of $7 billion for new organizing and political struggle.

    The Department of Labor released its report on union membership in 2005 and the labor movement added a net of 200,000 members in 2005. Which meant that even with an increased working population, unions held even as a percentage of the workforce.

    A small comfort possibly given the low percentage that labor has dropped to, but the point of the headline is for progressives to recognize that, when you are talking about the labor movement, small statistical fluxuations mean a hell of a lot of money.

    Adding 200,000 members multipled by a conservative estimate of monthly dues of $30 adds up to $70 million in additional income for unions-- which if used right translates into hiring hundreds of new organizers, researchers and communication specialists to help organize additional workers.

    One reason I'm an optimist on labor's revival -- other than knowing how many times labor was declared dead in this country only to rise again even stronger -- is that labor has this inherent virtuous cycle built into its structure, where a tipping point of success inherently leads to more resources and more success. New workers organized help fund the next round of organizing, so success inherently feeds success.

    I don't know if 2005 is the quiet tipping point where labor kicks starts a new period of rapid expansion, but $70 million of new income doesn't hurt the chances for that to be true.  

    And what folks need to fully understand is that these are critical allies for all progressives.    

    So hopefully this all gives folks a few information tools to educate themselves and others they may talk to about why unions are a critical part of both the progressive revival in this country and for bettering the lives of Americans.

  • Originally posted to NathanNewman on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 07:35 AM PDT.

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    Comment Preferences

    •  White collar question (17+ / 0-)
      White collar workers think of unions as blue collar, but what about professional associations and guilds? Do we have to refresh the mindset and vocabulary in the 21st Century?
      •  As a member of the ABA (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        vivacia, letsfight, BobOak, kraant, dougymi

        I don/t need a union.

        <end snark>

        •  As a computer geek... (10+ / 0-)

          I wish there was a union I could join, even if I chose not to do so.  The people at the top of the profession will do better if the people at the bottom of the profession do better.  

          If I charge $100 for my sevices and people lower in the profession charge $5, then a company could say "why should I hire 1 good person when I can hire 20 mediocre people, and surely there is a diamond in the rough that I can cull, and I will get maybe 12x the labor and .8x the quality if, instead of 20, I bring on 15, and save $25".

          Whereas, if I charge $100 for my services and people lower in the profession charge $70, then a company is more likely to see the value of my service.  In short, they will be less likely to look for 100 monkeys to give 100 typewriters to in the hopes of getting that Shakespeare.

          If people lower in the profession start charging $100, I can charge $150.

          It's the same in any profession.  The higher the lowest bar, the higher the highest.

          -9.50;-6.62. But it don't mean nuttin if you don't put your money where your mouth is

          by ultrageek on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 09:47:15 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Unions for Geeks (7+ / 0-)

            IFPTE  International Federation of Professional & technical Engineers.

            Comm. Workers of America

            Both of tese unions repreasent tech workers.

          •  I work in IT and I'm in a union... (4+ / 0-)
          •  Unfortunately (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            grrr, kraant

            the lowest bar is in Bangladesh.

            [ Anyone who thinks my bark is worse than my bite, has never seen me bite. ] -6.63 | -5.38

            by dj angst on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 10:34:13 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Software programmers (5+ / 0-)

            I've talked to a lot of software programmers since the late '90s and they are almost completely against unionizing. This is what I commonly hear:

            • I want to fight my own battles. If a job stinks, I  find a new one and quit.
            • I want to negotiate my own salary.
            • Unions will protect bad and incompetent programmers.
            • Unions add yet another layer of mismanagement.
            • Having a union will encourage my employeer to do more outsourcing.
            • Every industry in the USA that has unions is a dying industry.
            • Unions are anti-meritocracy.
            • I was in a union when I was 17 and all they did was take my money.

            And lately, their number one argument against unionizing is this:

            • Unions did nothing to prevent offshoring of jobs, so why would us unionizing help keep our jobs here?

            "Tech Workers of the World Unite?" over at Slashdot also has a lots of similar anti-union arguments I've heard when talking to software programmers.

            So even getting the discussion going about unions with software developers has been pretty much an uphill battle. As soon as people start to overcome their misconceptions, there is another downturn and a big layoff or a boom and people are out finding better paying jobs. Most software developers stay with one employer only three years or so.

            •  The knowledge of your programmers and you... (8+ / 0-)

              is, respectfully, not well informed.

              Fighting your own battle against multi billion dollar corporations is not realistic.  The power imbalance is to much to overcome.

              I am not aware that unions manage anything in the workplace.  Management is reserved to the management.  The additional layer comment is severly poorly informed.

              Having a union for everyone is the best means of preserving employment.

              The fastest growing parts of our economy are in energy, communincations and service.  Energy and communications is highly unionized and service is the main organizing objective of the largest and most effective unions in the country.

              Unions are not opposed to mertitocrasy but are opposed to arbitrary frequently unrelated reasons in rewarding employees.

              Interesting that your world view of unions seemd to have been formed at age 17.  To this I can only say that I dont think you had a strong understanding of reality at age 17.  To continue your lack of union support and call yourself a progressive tells me that you should "grow up".

              Finally if the union political agenda in trade had been followed the off-shoring of jobs that we see to day could have been greatly reduced.  But DLC'ers and Repugs have helped the WTO, NAFTA and CAFTA emerge as the greatest means to reducing American jobs.  Unions are not the problem.  It is short sighted progressives that cannot fathom the systems thinking  attack that union opponents have mastered.  Quit joining their effort by down mouthing unions!

              •  You attack me without reading (9+ / 0-)

                You are attacking me, the messenger, because I put up examples of what I'm fighting against? I'm sorry if my post was not clear enough for you.

                You attack me for trying to promote unions for programmers, and say I'm part of the problem. Maybe, so I've not been successful. However, you sure the hell did not read my comment. You saw the list of misconceptions that I'm dealing with and decided to vent your anger at me.

                Interesting that your world view of unions seemd to have been formed at age 17.  To this I can only say that I dont think you had a strong understanding of reality at age 17.  To continue your lack of union support and call yourself a progressive tells me that you should "grow up".

                You didn't even read what I wrote. These are the views of the people I am trying to convince to unionize. And yes they aren't well informed, and your attack-the-messenger response sure the hell doesn't help the union cause.

                I am strongly pro-Union and have been advocating unions for programmers. It is an uphill battle and I've not had any success. The topic is a non starter with most programmers. Seventeen may seem young, but my youngest co-worker just turned 21 and fresh out of college.

                I've been working to persuade software developers, who are my friends and colleages, that its in our best interest to unionize. It is an uphill battle because they are ill-informed and pro-union people seem to not want to LISTEN to their concerns.

                Quit joining their effort by down mouthing unions!

                Sigh. And, thanks for for protraying union advocates so positively, comments like yours will surely will them over.

              •  Yes... (9+ / 0-)

                Computer programmers (and a lot of other computer-related workers) have a bit of a union-phobia.

                A lot of the anti-union arguments come from the Libertarian undercurrent found in a lot of computer programmers. (I think it's the only industry where one of the most prominent figures is a total libertarian-type.)

                Of course, the underlying libertarian argument against unions is bogus and it doesn't take too long to prove it*, so we get all these other arguments designed to make up for the lack of quality in the one that originally convinced the union-phobics.

                It's doubly a problem beause computer science types are pretty smart on average (their whole job is to be smart) and they like to thimk of themselves that way, even when they aren't or in areas where they aren't.

                (* Note: The argument goes something like "unions are anti-competetive/anti-free market and hurt businesses unfairly". Although that's a gigantic reduction. The counter-point is that without unions the employers hold almost all the cards. There can't be any market because there is only one side to the equation--employees cease to become providers of services and start becoming natural resources there to be picked and used by corporations. (And yes, "human resources" departments do tend to treat employees this way.) With unions the combined bargaining power enables a true market whereby people can negotiate for compensation equivalent to the service they provide, even when employers don't want to give that compensation. Sometimes, yes, this means businesses fail--but because they can't give fair compensation for services rendered! If the market dictates a business should fail, but it does not fail because its employers cannot get fair compensation, then is that not a failure of the market?

                Note that this is right off the top of my head, so i may be wrong to an unknown degree :) This is your warning.)

                The Shapeshifter's Blog -- Politics, Philosophy, and Madness!

                by Shapeshifter on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 03:01:42 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  A lot of these people are also responding (5+ / 0-)

                  to the low capital investment required to do their jobs.  People who work in industry or manufacturing or hotels can't reasonably create their own businesses.  If you're a programmer, you can get all you need to get started and then some for under 1000 dollars.  It creates a different dynamic for them.  Also, it helps that most of them are still at an age where they don't need good insurance and they don't suffer work injuries the way people who work with heavy equipment do.  As time goes on, they will come around.

                  A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.

                  by Webster on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 03:44:15 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Well... (4+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    farleftcoast, Webster, kraant, Magnifico

                    Some of them are old enough, although i suspect the younger ones are more averse to unions than the older ones. (Also, a 55 year old computer science person has a different background than a 25 year old computer science person.)

                    It's true that money tends not to be the problem for computer science people, but on the other hand: the problem does tend to be benefits.

                    Not necessarily insurance, but stuff like hours and other things tend to be abused. Lots of programmer managers just set impossible schedules, and then when the programmers fail to meet them the managers just demand unpaid overtime hours until the project gets completed. For instance, EA, a game design company, is notorious for screwing over its employees.

                    The Shapeshifter's Blog -- Politics, Philosophy, and Madness!

                    by Shapeshifter on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 07:35:39 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Actually, no, i can't leave it at that... (5+ / 0-)

                      Let's unpack some of this stuff...

                      Salon, i think, understands the problem: there are no unions, but if the abuses outlined in their article (linked in my comment above) are to be stopped the employees must unionize.

                      The problem gets outlined nicely, although not anywhere near completely, but Salon: employees often work 100+ hour work weeks, set up intentionally by (i propose) ill-intentioned managers and higher-ups.

                      Salon talks about how programmers are yesterday's heroes, but today's oppressed masses--and this did not happen by accident. When the established corporate forces saw that programmers were willing to work unbelievable hours under the right circumstances they set out to use those programmers in that manner. Back when programmers were "the heroes", they could have unionized or set up some basic form of collective bargaining--but instead, drunk on power (and probably inexperience) they scoffed at unionization and any such form of "collectivism" and asserted their own invincibility and suggested they were indespensible to corporations.

                      But guess what? They weren't.

                      Although they scoffed at "lefty" policies (and "lefty unions") at one point, all of their current problems stem from "righty" policies and their rejection of "lefty" policies. Here's the secret: They thought they were the new Rightist cabal; a new and indespensible power base the Right and their minions would have no choice but to respect and include at the Right wing's dinner table. They were wrong, however: they are the servants at the dinner table, just like everyone else.

                      I know some people who explicitly used this line of thinking to try to bring me over to their way of thinking: "Why do you insist on not being a Republican," i would get asked, "You make so much money you shouldn't give a damn about unions or opposing Republican oppression, that stuff will never affect you!" However, basically completely resisted their suggestions and feel quite vindicated for it.

                      Besides, i do not want to be a Rightist tyrant.

                      WATW sums it up in the Salon article:

                      Employees are working more hours. They're getting compensated less. And the power of employers is increasing compared to the power of employees. Compared to other countries, U.S. workers work longer hours. Corporate profits are up, and wages are continuing to stagnate even though we're more than three years into an economic recovery.

                      Although, as the article notes, there's some talk of unionization i don't expect it to lead to much action in EA's case.

                      Not yet.

                      Even the computer programmer's self-promoted indespensibility does not help them in cases like EA. Again, as the article notes:

                      In other words, you can't just sue your way to a more reasonable work schedule. "They're not going to change company practices in terms of excessive work hours," he says. "The only thing a court case might be able to do is get them compensation, and that's not even a guarantee."

                      [...]

                      "First, a lot of them still haven't even accepted that it's a problem, and they cause a lot of grief to those who actually want to have families or social lives and still work in the industry that they love. Second, the 'cowboy' mentality that's been discussed seems to put this idea in developers' heads that they need to be these existential heroes and sacrifice themselves for the good of video games everywhere. The corporations feed off of these mentalities and use them to exploit people," [...] "I don't see them altering their basic mentality to suck developers dry. The developers themselves will have to take a stand. It would be nice if that stand could be taken without involving lawyers or unions, but increasingly it seems that that won't be possible."

                      In other words, they'll pay whatever a single employee asks--assuming you can twist their arm enough--but as long as there is no collective demand they're free to go right on screwing over every other employee--who must, then, individually try to extract just compensation out of one of the largest game companies on the face of the planet. And this is the explicit strategy that EA (and others) use in order to exploit their workers.

                      And, in fact, even when the problem and solution is right there staring themselves in the face they still want to treat it like a last resort. Is it really the observation of a rational person that, in the situation described, any solution could be had without involving lawyers and almost certainly unions? When the employers are not acting in good faith, do you think they will listen to you just because it's beneficial to you, personally? Their entire strategy is to do things which are massively beneficial to them, but incredibly harmful to you! If you're complaining, that's how they know it's working!

                      What sort of solutions, then, do they propose?

                      He hopes that enlightened self-interest will lead companies to take a more worker-friendly tack: "Whether it's rookies or veterans or whatever, it's proven that overworking your staff is not going to get good or productive work out of them. If you send people home to have a life, walk the dog, see a movie, and have a good night's sleep, they'll be more productive. After about eight hours of work you make more problems than you're solving by putting more bugs into the code."

                      That's it. Just sit around and take it until EA realizes that it's in their best interest not to destroy the lives of their employees. And maybe it is--we're seeing new studies recently about how salaried employees spend something like an average of 4 hours a day totally unproductively. Maybe that unproductive time isn't unproductive at all, maybe it's to recharge their drained mental energies. No human being can be dead-on for eight hours a day, five days a week, whole years at a time. But "enlightened self interest" is Randbot bullshit.

                      How much slack are you willing to give them, my computer programmer friends? You've already given them enough to make a noose, and they've stated their intent to hang you. Why is this okay?

                      Or are you going to stand up and force them to treat you like a real human being? Once you're ready, i have the way for you: unions. I know you think that's "lefty garbage", but you ain't doing better yourselves. So i have a suggestion: either put up (your own solution, or a union) or shut up and quit whining.

                      I'll be waiting.

                      The Shapeshifter's Blog -- Politics, Philosophy, and Madness!

                      by Shapeshifter on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 08:27:21 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  I'd also note: (1+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        kraant

                        Unions provide at least some measure of protection against outsourcing, which is a rapidly growing problem in a variety of tech jobs.  Programmers are not immune to it, by any means.  In fact, I'm extremely surprised that more programming jobs haven't yet been shipped overseas.  Unlike tech support (which seems to be a wholly bangledeshi phenomenon, nowadays), programmers don't have to interact directly with customers.  I think the only thing that is holding programming jobs here is the aura of celebrity a few programmers still maintain.

                      •  Actually, my friends who work in the (1+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        kraant

                        game industry have told me these kinds of stories.  At one company, they gave out sleeping bags to new employees for the times when they had to sleep at the office.  On the other hand, when they weren't at crunch time, they hung out, had friends come to their office, played games and hung out, sometimes for months without doing much work.  These guys didn't feel abused at all.  Many of them are married now and still in the industry.  I worked at a special effects company as well and we ran the same kind of schedule.  Was it tough?  Hell, yes, but the money and benefits were really good, there was always great food, and we were a team that could brag about our product.  No one there was whining, except when they got sent out of town on a half hour notice and didn't get to fly back until the next day.  But when they made an extra week's pay for the trip, they felt better.

                        And I stand by what I said before.  One of these companies broke up and there were three new companies started from the employees there.  They all kept the same schedules and all still do it.  I support labor, but I also know that I got to work on some great movies, made a lot of money, and got to spend weeks screwing around, going to the movies during the day and all sorts of other things that most jobs wouldn't allow.  I'd take another job just like it too, in a heartbeat.

                        i'd guess though that there is a shop or two that have regular hours and decent pay.  Lemme check around and see.

                        A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.

                        by Webster on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 09:12:11 PM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

            •  Different worlds, Magnifico (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              StuartZ, farleftcoast, kraant

              Software developers generally work at will, I always have in that profession anyway, and take pride in our education, skill, and enterprise. When you don't like the product, the environment, the tools, the pay -- screw it, you move on. And as long as you're smart, lucky, healthy, and working in a strong economy, things work out great. Smart about your personal finances, too, don't forget to get that Keogh / IRA going at a young age. God help you if you stumble though, and thank God for a broad societal safety net, including Social Security.

              There is another world, though, including armies of blue collar workers making our comfortable middle class lives possible every day. I often think all those years I spent as a truck driver were even more valuable to society than what I do now. There though, you're more of an interchangeable part and will get ground into the mud if you don't organize in concert with fellow workers. The general culture discourages that -- everyone wants to think of themselves as that brilliant, self actualizing individualist. And that's a mistake and one that gets you acting against your own interest.

              The labor movement is the natural ally of every progressive movement as well. Notice how the Connecticut American Federation of Teachers endorsed Lamont, citing their opposition to the war's siphoning off much needed funds from education and other domestic needs.

              •  Not that different... (4+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                MikeB, peraspera, farleftcoast, kraant

                Different? Yes. Wildly different? No. Would unions benefit by having software developers in their union. Yes Would software developers benefit from being unionized? Hell yes!

                The reason software developers work "at will" is because they can't negotiate contracts with their employers. Why can't they? They aren't unionized. Software developers work long hours and are well paid, but they are being exploited. Take this article from the Nov 21, 2004 New York Times:

                But you can't look at a place like Electronic Arts, the world's largest developer of entertainment software, and not think back to the early industrial age when a youthful work force was kept fully occupied during all waking hours to enrich a few elders.

                Yet there is unhappiness among those who are living that dream. Based on what can be glimpsed through cracks in E.A.'s front facade, its high-tech work force is toiling like galley slaves chained to their benches.

                Game developers are probably the most exploited type of programmers, but I think they are the "canary in the coal mine" for the industry as a whole. The article explains a class-action lawsuit against E.A. for uncompensated overtime — 6 days a week, over 65 hours a week. Additionally, there is a burnout factor that favors management. Work the young and dumb until they burn out, and get the new crop of young and dumb to do the same thing. Later in the NYTimes article:

                INDEED, E.A. is noticeably young in appearance. After Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, spent a sabbatical last spring as a researcher at the company, he wrote, "I am 43 and I felt absolutely ancient during my time there."

                ... The company has 3,300 employees in its studios developing game titles, and it hires 1,000 new people a year. (Company officials said voluntary turnover is about 10 percent annually.) ...

                Professor Pausch listed cost savings from lower salaries as one reason E.A. wishes to shift hiring to a younger group. The company also recognizes that fresh graduates are the most suggestible; Professor Pausch said he heard managers say that "young kids don't know what's impossible." That, however, they will learn when they get their schedules.

                Long hours, uncompensated overtime, high turn-over and burnout? Yeah, software developers work at will and no things aren't terrible writing software... yet. The gravy years of easy money are over. Benefits are being cut, health insurance costs are rising, retirement means 401(k) and the whims of the market, layoffs are more frequent, and there are always the threat that your employer will offshore your job. Then the next time you're out job hunting and find salaries have been driven down 10-25% because software developers on H-1b visas are cheaper.

                Whether or not programmers are willing to admit it to themselves, or not — software developers are skilled labor — labor that needs to get organized.

                •  Right (4+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  peraspera, farleftcoast, kraant, Magnifico

                  I work summers as a developer, but teach computer programming at a vocational college during the school year (.NET, Java, PHP/MySQL, Flash), and am a member of the AFT. One of the favorite canards about unions, that they destroy initiative and foster mediocrity, is absolutely false in my experience, the exact reverse is closer to the truth. The organization I work for is pathologically risk-averse, and my educational and technical initiatives would not have had a chance without union protection. Not to mention all the standard benefits of unionization, including a great health plan, which has come in handy lately (to understate the case).

                •  These are all the issues that... (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  kraant

                  surrounding organizing drives.

                  "How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake?" -John Kerry, 1971 but what we needed to hear in 2003/2004

                  by Demise on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 08:51:26 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

            •  fair enough (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              farleftcoast, kraant, Magnifico

              These are the same arguments in all fields.  There's this perception that "I'm a great worker.  So, I get paid based on my work."  However, that assumes everyone else is a bad worker.  Well, then that means that the other workers think you too are a bad worker.  Come on, does that make sense?

              Anti-union folks have one or two fears about their jobs  or current employment situation that you can find if you listen carefully enough.

              The unions didn't save the offshoring argument is the scariest of all for these workers.  However, CWA has done amazing work on this front.  http://www.techsunite.org/  Read their info on how the Labor department will now allow some tech products to fall under TAA (Trade Adjustment Assistance).  You can read the full article here:
              http://www.techsunite.org/...

            •  Wow. (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              farleftcoast, kraant, Magnifico

              Lot's of disccussion about labor from the tech guys... To me, it's finding the right way to approach the industry and winning contracts. When you find a way that works, you run with it.

              It's a shame that there is so much turn over, is it because the jobs dry up? Or is it because you don't get raises or respect so you move on? I ask this because one of the primary goals when workers form the union is retention. Having a voice and negotiating successive contracts to build a workplace that you don't want to leave.

              If you are only lasting three years.. that's bunk. Who wants that level of insecurity? Who wants to burn through their savings every 3 years between jobs?

              I get the feeling that time will cure a lot of misconceptions. Workers can only eat shit for so long and try different methods of self-preservation (like going out after work together and forming a kind of 'brother/sisterhood' naturally in the face of a stifling work environment) before they start to wonder how to really affect change. Many don't realize it but they 'organize' already on the job and watch each others backs. Partnering with an established union is just the next step.

              "How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake?" -John Kerry, 1971 but what we needed to hear in 2003/2004

              by Demise on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 08:48:23 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Some reasons for the turn over (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                kraant

                I'll try to answer your questions with anecdotal stories. These are just my observations and stories I've heard.

                It's a shame that there is so much turn over, is it because the jobs dry up? Or is it because you don't get raises or respect so you move on?

                There are a few common reasons. One is, a lot of developers want to keep their resume fresh with new skills and technologies applied on the job. A lot of developers believe they will get pigeon holed if they stay too long doing any type of development. For example, if you're C++ or Java developer and then need or want to find another job, you will find that the jobs now are C#/.Net or J2EE jobs. Now these developers are probably qualified for these jobs, but why hire someone almost right, when a buzz word compliant applicant is available. If you don't have the right buzz word with experience, you have a harder time finding a job. Companys get a product established in the market and don't want to rewrite it in a new language just so their developers can keep their resumes up-to-date.

                A more obvious example would be a Cobol or Fortran progammer. He or she may have been doing that work for the past 20 years and now needs to look for a job. They may be skilled developers, but they aren't up to date. Some have updated their skills, but still their work experience handicaps them. Age also plays against a software developers. Employers know younger people cost less money up front, so they try to hire younger people. If they don't have a family, then even better. The expectation is they'll work longer hours. Experienced (older) employees are more expensive, but generally will save the company money by not making mistakes that new developers make. A lot of companies haven't caught on to this cost trade off.

                Another reason is the boom-bust cycle in software development in some areas. Companies are bought and sold and close shops in one town and open them up in others. Companies are small (under 20 people) or mid-sized (under 200) and private companies with a non-unionized work force can fly below the radar. Layoffs can be done slowly enough so plant closing rules don't come into play. Sometimes a developer is offered a job in the new city, sometimes he or she isn't.

                An example, non-example, is word processing software. If times are hard, a person or company isn't likely to buy new software. Why buy new software when the old software still works? Best to save that money. So, the company that sells the word processing software downsizes in tight economic times. When a lot of companies do this, it floods the developer market and drives down wages.

                Salaries jumped considerably in the dot com era. Employers are still trying to bring them down. The threat of offshoring and in-sourcing keeps people in line. The line "Shut up and just be happy you still have a job" is often heard. So, this breeds ill feelings. When the software economy gets hot, software developers go find another company thinking this one won't be like their last employer. In reality, they are probably just filling the position left by an unhappy developer who found another job.

                •  So.. (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  kraant

                  Workforce development in terms of training workers is a major issue. Unions could help in this by supporting councils that examine the direction of the market and offering trainings to workers.

                  Also, contracts could be written that require the company to foot the bill for training. It's not an unreasonable request to retain a quality workforce.

                  From what I am reading in your post, programmers would benefit from contracts that regulate their hours of work. No one wants to burn out on the job and proper strategizing of projects between workers and management would be a solution. It could also help with staffing issues.

                  It's the size of the companies that make organizing harder. Also, the boom/bust of the industry is problematic. But, it's not going anywhere and will just grow.

                  "How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake?" -John Kerry, 1971 but what we needed to hear in 2003/2004

                  by Demise on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 10:10:57 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Yup, I think so too (0+ / 0-)

                    Yes, unions would make a positive difference for software developers.

                    The reasons for software developers to unionize seem to be endless as my stories and examples show. But yet, I mention that we programmers should unionize and I get attacked.

                    Why can't others in the profession understand this?

                    •  The key to the lock (2+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      kraant, Magnifico

                      Is agitation.

                      You've outlined the issues clearly, I bet your fellow workers have the same issues. Push the issues in conversations, bring up ways that they could be overcome by having more of a partnership with management... maybe management already has a 'review' board or some other method for workers to voice their opinions... how broken is that? Is it effective? is it a captive audience joke?

                      Make a point to bring up one of the issues in that forum.

                      Do you feel respected? Are you being talked down too? How can workers really be heard?

                      Collective Bargaining.

                      It's one thing to talk about the 'union' as some abstract with workers on the job. It doesn't move people to just talk about unionization. What moves people is to clearly define what the problems are and how they can be fixed.

                      If workers don't respond to the issues they face on the job daily, then no matter how much resources, organizers, what-have-you a union throws at them- they will never be effectively organized.

                      It's been said before but it can't be stressed enough- the union isn't the real power in the workplace, the workers are.

                      "How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake?" -John Kerry, 1971 but what we needed to hear in 2003/2004

                      by Demise on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 10:36:32 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

              •  Continued... (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                kraant

                If you are only lasting three years.. that's bunk. Who wants that level of insecurity? Who wants to burn through their savings every 3 years between jobs?

                Sometimes developers just leave because of boredom and burnout. Working on the same software for years, often more than 40hr/week leads to boredom. The problems all begin to look the same. So another project at a different company will at least appear to be new... for a while. I know this behavior is silly, but it seems to happen a lot.

                The lucky ones time their career changes to the booms in the software industry. Leave a job at the start of a boom, get enough value to survive the bust period, once things pick-up again get another job. My sense is the younger the developer, usually the more frequent he or she will change a job.

                I get the feeling that time will cure a lot of misconceptions.

                I sure hope so. I thought the crash of the dot com bubble economy would have been a wake up call, but it didn't change the attitudes of "we don't need a union." People have been writing software for twenty to thirty-five years now, and still seem hostile to the mere idea of organizing. I'm still hopeful that attitudes will change and I'm still trying to get software developers unionized.

                •  The 'Verge' theory.. (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  kraant

                  Sometimes I wonder if middle income people still believe that they are on the 'verge' of something that will make them millionaires. This is more of a societal thing I think because Americans are raised to expect success and money but perhaps in the programming world, the idea is still strongly believed that (and possibly true even if I consider it pretty outrageous) they are one step away from riches.

                  This is not to say that it's not possible but... it's definetly not a regular occurance. It's like a teen in the ghetto who thinks he will be the next Shaq Daddy.  

                  I could be totally wrong but you did mention some programmers consider start-ups and have dreams of running their own companies. I don't think this a bad thing, it just tends to make the idea of solidarity less appealing to people.

                  "How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake?" -John Kerry, 1971 but what we needed to hear in 2003/2004

                  by Demise on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 10:18:13 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Yup (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    kraant

                    You hit upon why a large chunk of poor and middle class Americans vote republican and are anti-union. They think they're next in line to the millionaires club. They identify with the Paris Hiltons and Bill Gates of the world. Not only that, many people don't identify themselves with other people like them. They'll max out their credit cards and live in debt, just so they can appear to be more affluent then they are.

                    Since so many people can't see where they are in the class structure of America, good luck trying to have them identify with anyone less well off than themselves. Since many people identify with the rich, and not with their own economic peers, good luck having them identify with the person enlisting in the Army because their are no jobs in town, or the person out on the street without a home, or the person standing in the unemployment line.

                    •  Mirage (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      kraant

                      I tend to tip-toe around this issue because it's hard to broach with people without coming off as insulting. I'll admit it myself, I coasted through most of my 20s expecting to have everything fall in my lap; this despite the fact that I grew up in a single-mother family, on the edge of poverty, being responsible for my sister while my mom worked 50+ hours a week.

                      It's really ingrained in people.

                      "How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake?" -John Kerry, 1971 but what we needed to hear in 2003/2004

                      by Demise on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 10:43:14 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                    •  This is the 'bootstraps' theory that (0+ / 0-)

                      is used to keep workers from organizing, since they are told their own individual efforts will cause them to advance.  And sometimes it happens.  Though those who start with an advantage from birth generally do better, however.  We also have ingrained in us a consumerist celebrity-worshipping culture; so if religion was (and probably still is) "the opiate of the masses", the new opiates are consumption and celeb culture keeping the masses occupied at the water cooler.  At the water cooler we're talking new cars and clothes and Brad and Angelina, instead of how to get a voice in the workplace!

          •  An interesting opportunity (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            StuartZ, farleftcoast, kraant

            One I believe (as a former union member and rep) most of the labor movement has deliberately ignored.

            Years ago I was a back-row participant at a meeting where an enthusiastic organizer-type proposed some exploratory efforts around organizing tech workers (implying investment in staff and infrastructure) targeting a few high-potential geographies.  The meeting included reps from a bunch of unions, one of whom was the organizing director of a particularly big union.

            The organizing director immediately denounced the idea -- and in vicious terms.  He essentially played the whole Marxist routine, portraying the very notion as the nefarious sedition of a class enemy.  He concluded with the argument that even if you organized tech workers, they would only dilute the emphasis and agenda of the labor movement away from the core concerns of the working classes.

            It was a passionate, powerhouse performance -- completely breathtaking.  Killed the discussion in its tracks, in such a way that a) it would never be raised to that guy again, and b) all the more junior folks from other unions would absorb the obvious truth that organizing tech workers = betraying the labor movement.

            Maybe tech workers do represent a bad use of scarce organizing resources (there are some valid reasons one might argue this), but this occasion -- representative of a dozen others -- exhibited the type of Bushian, ideology-driven, shut-down of debate that can only lead to decline.

            The loss of union membership has mainly been driven by employers ignoring labor law, government agencies declining to enforce it, and legislators watering it down.

            But some unions have responded creatively and effectively to changing circumstances and have grown membership.  As for the rest?  Basic leadership failures among those at the top often keep them from even having a chance.

            Anybody seen my owl?

            by Minerva on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 03:46:21 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  I'd say a lot of reframing has to be done (7+ / 0-)

        So much misinformation about unions has spread. And white collar workers are most likely to believe the lies - unless they've had personal experience with unions through their jobs. It's just one more thing the corporations spread lies about, excuse me, another PR campaign, and it's easy with the white collar workers because there are so few around to help set them straight.

        I myself belonged to a federal union, an offshoot of the AFL-CIO. This was back when Rumsfeld-Cheney had set the ball in motion to shut down the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO). The OEO employees joined the union for help in fighting this scheme.

        That union didn't help with raises or, as far as I know, typical management-employee relations. As far as I could tell, it only supplied us legal help and support. But that was what we wanted and it was more than enough.

        My mother worked for a large city newspaper. All employees there had to join the union too, no matter what their position. The union did help her get raises and a better pension, so they were all right by her. It still didn't stop her from complaining about the health package where she had to pay for a plan that covered young women's pregnancies and birth control when she was well past all that.

        But I believe, were she still here, she'd argue for unions - should the subject ever come up.

        We're blues people. And blues never lets tragedy have the last word. -Wynton Marsalis

        by paluxy1945 on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 08:53:55 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  This website has an audience the size (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          kraant

          of a large newspaper and ONE employee.

          I'm sure Warren Buffett, the Grahams, and the Sulzbergers[?] will take a look around the newsroom with an eye for staff reductions.

          •  Maybe ... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            kraant

            I worked for some of the cheapest fucking publishers on the planet and they were always looking for a way to get rid of waste (i.e., human beings).

            But it's hard to duplicate what this site does, and even harder to make the kind of money that newspapers do from building a community of activists (hopefully). Kos may be gaining influence, but I doubt the profits from this site are anywhere near what the number of readers here would generate for a more profit-minded operation.

            "Pain always produces logic, which is very bad for you." - Frank O'Hara

            by journey man on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 04:58:02 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  I was a UAW member for a bit (5+ / 0-)

        when I worked for one of the few (only?) unionized non-profit progressive organizations.  I have no idea what sort of immediate benefits it got me, really, but I liked being in a union.  And I think our union membership did help us with our organizing work, as it allowed us to work with other unions to really build a progressive movement or build a groundswell of support or opposition to various bills or efforts in the state.  
        Nowadays, I'm a legal assistant for one of the friendlier lawfirms in DC, but a union would be pretty handy, even for us.  We went, apparently, 5 years or so without a cost of living wage increase or anything of the like, as the value or our wages shrank.  There was some fighting to up our pay, which panned out, but I can't help but feel that having a union would have added to the pressure to aid us.  After all, without legal assistants, all the big lawfirms in the country would collapse.  That would be a damned effective strike.

        If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. - George Orwell (-9.75, -9.03)

        by nilocjin on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 10:05:57 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Refresh mindset, yes ... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        peraspera, farleftcoast, kraant

        The biggest problem - and this is hardly new - is that those who in decent financial situations in jobs where they feel their gains stem directly from their individual efforts are fairly blind believers in the Protestant work ethic. They believe too much in the ideology of individualism and fail to see that they only prosper as a highly dependent part of a community.

        Some fields get past this problem by appealing mostly to people on what passes as the left in the U.S., or people with strong backgrounds in the history of labor and economics. Academia, for example (my field). We unionize because we've bought into the idea that working for the greater good starts with a focus on the community rather than on the individual.

        How to change that mindset among those where profit motives drive actions more, and where incentives seem geared to individual performance, even though they're really geared towards maintaining the ideology of the individual which then keeps the community fractured ... I'm not sure.

        "Pain always produces logic, which is very bad for you." - Frank O'Hara

        by journey man on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 04:53:36 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  I'm a unionized professional (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Marek, Budlawman, kraant

        I'm a lawyer whose in a union.  I work at a legal services provider.  We have a damn good contract thanks to our union.

    •  Wow! (16+ / 0-)
      Thanks for putting together this post for us! It really encourages me when I see our good progressive labor roots being proudly touted.
    •  Unions and netroots (20+ / 0-)

      Thanks for posting this, Nathan.  I just want to point out that a lot of the prescription for change in Crashing the Gate -- specifically, the parts about mobilizing small donors and getting people to do more than donate by getting active in change -- involve things that unions are already doing.  I see "netroots" mobilization as something that is partially filling the void left by the lack of unions in America.

      Given that there is so much common interest, the labor movement and the progressive netroots should be working hand in hand.  You're doing great work to help bring the two together.

    •  Awesome diary, (8+ / 0-)

      especially in the context of yesterday's diary. Is there hope for a repeal of Taft-Hartley even if Democrats take both houses and the presidency in 2008? Or would it just be filabustered? Is there someway around it or something the states can do?

    •  Employee Free Choice Act (22+ / 0-)

      Progressives need to get behind it.  Here's an AFL-CIO link to other links with the info:
      http://www.aflcio.org/...

      As Nathan explains, the main reason unions are declining in most places is that employers have psychologically become less burdened by common humanity and simply "do the math": fire a few key organizers now, maybe pay them later if the anemic NLRB gets around to prosecuting and finding the employer to have violated the law, but in the meantime, a "union-free environment" is assured through intimidation.  The legislation -- which is gaining support in Congress but obviously will only be signed by a Dem president -- will increase the penalties on law-breaking employers and make it easier to organize all those millions who say they want a union.  

      More needs to be done to organize internationally to make it less enticing to move production and jobs -- drive-through burger order takers in India??? -- overseas, but in order to assure dignity and a voice in the workplace, and to strengthen the progressive cause generally, we must encourage the reconstruction of the union movement in this country.  If unions' image can improve, this can actually be a wedge issue in which the Rethugs are revealed as anti-worker (and therefore anti-family), pro-elite greedy SOB's who are not really fond of NASCAR.

      •  Orders will be processed through a cell phone (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kraant

        Who needs to pay Indians except for programming the order system?

        Most 20th century jobs are going the way of 19th century farm jobs - into the history books.

        People need be retrained to take care of their own housing and medical needs instead of given skills corporations no longer need.

        •  Take supermarket checkers (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          kraant

          That just reminds me of the 03 strike in Cali -- who most people around here thought was absurd

          I can imagine the Marxist/Socialist wing of the Party organizing all supermarket checkers so they make %20 an hour and have free healthcare and 3 weeks paid vacation.

          Then in 5 years all supermarkets use RFID labels and their jobs simply vanish.

          www.tasinifornewyork.org

          by naufragus on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 01:37:23 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Sounds great. (6+ / 0-)

            I know a bit about RFID tags, but I had no idea that they could stock the shelves or bag groceries or collect carts or stop theft.  The technology has come a long way since last week.

            A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.

            by Webster on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 03:48:23 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Would be funny... (5+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Marek, Raddark, farleftcoast, Webster, kraant

            Too see such a supermarket lose 65% of their business. The public doesn't want to shop where there is a complete lack of customer service.

            The automated check-outs in supermarkets are for the impatient young. You don't see middle-aged, elderly or mothers using those things and the bread and butter of supermarkets are those segments of the population that don't eat out as much as younger people.

            "How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake?" -John Kerry, 1971 but what we needed to hear in 2003/2004

            by Demise on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 09:02:12 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  Data certainly makes a difference. (10+ / 0-)

      Thanks for this diary. It is probably for no small reason that in Sweden, a social democracy, 89% of workers belong to unions, the percentage of low-paid workers is minimal, and relative poverty, small, about 5%.

      Read Jeffery Sachs' The End of Poverty.

      by shergald on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 08:00:57 AM PDT

      •  Excellent points (5+ / 0-)

        They show the need to talk about the entire labor strategy in Europe, which is partly about the usual union stuff, but also about union organization being key to the political organization of the workers.  Unions in Sweden are only half of the story -- the other half is the Social Democratic Party of Sweden and its long-standing position as the single most powerful party in that political system.

        We need a separate diary (or diaries) on social democracy.  There is a long and distinguished history of social democratic involvement in and influence on the Democratic Party.  Just as there is room for a libertarian current within the Democrats, there is also plenty of room for a social democratic current.  In fact, a lot of the criticisms of the libertarian viewpoints were implicitly social democratic in orientation.

      •  probably has a major part in the lack of (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        farleftcoast, kraant

        violent crime, and that of longevity of it's citizens, as well.

        "Rovus vulgaris americanus"
        Chronic infection
        of Democracy.
        Cure: Pending
        -7.63, -9.59

        by shpilk on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 09:35:25 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Thanks for coming back with this. (25+ / 0-)
      I think a lot of us really need to start at the beginning and learn about unions and labor as though we know nothing.

      We ought to get some data one day about what the connections between the blogosphere and labor really are. I've seen online polls here that ask about union involvement by Daily Kos readers, or diaries that ask people about their connections to organized labor. But often, the respondents tell us about "growing up in a union household," or about their grandfather's experience as an organizer. Or perhaps the year or two spent working in a unionized job during college year summers.

      To be sure, we do have several readers who hold jobs and cards in old line labor unions. But the truth is that as a group, for progressives, we're probably pretty far removed in our day-to-day personal lives from unionized labor. Not only do we need access to a basic education in the history and issues of the labor movement, but we need to reconnect with the concept of our reliance on unionized labor for providing all the things we do have daily, personal contact with.

      This is a great start, I think. And I hope it will lead to new realizations among the labor leadership about how much potential there is among the online progressive community. That is, how much education is necessary, and what rewards might be reaped from it.

      •  Union member here (6+ / 0-)

        26 years in the SWMIA I can tell you that the ideals we seek here do go hand in hand with what the blue collar people I work with are seeking also. The problem with union folks getting involved is message. The repugs and their 24/7 propaganda machine have so successfully framed dems in such an unattractive package that most people buy it. They don't know what we stand for and think we are weak on security among other misconceptions. Repugs have repeated their talking points so often and so long that folks believe it. I do my part to deprogram these guys, but I'm just one man in one union shop. Until we get equal opportunity airtime and a semblance of fair reporting, I don't know how to break the cycle of fallacies being held as truth.
        Excellent diary btw.

        Impeach and Imprison! -6.63/-6.10

        by FireCrow on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 09:59:23 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  i never understood the appeal of unions (14+ / 0-)

        until the UAW organized grad students in the UC system, and i saw my fees drop, and got health care and dental, and a way of collectively dealing with the crap the administration threw at us. after that, i was sold. i've gotten far more back in wage increases and better working conditions and grievance processes than the pittance i paid in union dues.

        crimson gates reek with meat and wine/while on the streets, bones of the frozen dead -du fu (712-770)

        by wu ming on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 10:36:27 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  It's good that unions are identified w/ improved (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          eugene, Shapeshifter, farleftcoast, kraant

          wages and working conditions, but ideally they should be about social change as well, as they are more in Europe.  Unions here have bought into the "business unionism" mindset, which was essentially a mutual backscratching deal with business that today's employers have gleefully undercut, via union-busting, bankruptcy, and circumvention of labor law.  So now, unions are stuck with being taken for granted by the Dems and being at war with the Rethugs.  Lots of reasons why it went down this way in America.  One good book on the history (in addition to what NN cites above is "State of the Union: A Century of American Labor (Politics and Society in Twentieth Century America)" by by Nelson Lichtenstein, a UCSB prof.

    •  Getting 'Failed' Message on Comments when Expande (19+ / 0-)

      I'm getting problems reading comments.  Getting the message "Failed" when I try to expand them.

      Is this just me or are others getting similar results?

    •  While it's a little long... (14+ / 0-)

      thank you for eloquently stating positions that cannot ever be stated too often on this site.  Of all the things that disappointed me about the Clinton years, the biggest disappointment, by far, was that WH's attitude towards labor.

      While there's always a tendency to romanticize the past, in 1944, FDR gave labor express veto power over the selection of his VP.  In 1993, Al Gore served as the point man in the Clinton WH's all-out drive to pass NAFTA.  It still astounds me that, in its first year of office, a Dem WH would make the passage of a bill that was bitterly opposed by a key constituent group one of its top legislative priorities.  Health care, a stated priority of the Clinton WH, was not introduced until the following year.

      Maybe it goes back to the Hart campaign in 1984.  Mondale got the AFL-CIO endorsement, so Hart spent his campaing blasting labor as a "special interest group."  That attitude seemed to persist into the 1990s.  Can anyone imagine the GOP treating the religious right the way that the Dems often treat labor?  It would be unthinkable.

      A close friend is a labor atty in Orlando.  Every even-numbered year, his firm's offices become a local party HQ.  He basically put his practice aside in 10/04 working on GOTV efforts.  His clients always buy tables at the party dinners.  IMHO, his clients rarely get a fair return on this investment.

      If labor was treated by the Dems the way that the religious right is treated by the GOP, the party and the country would be much better off.

      Some men see things as they are and ask why. I see things that never were and ask why not?

      by RFK Lives on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 08:08:37 AM PDT

    •  GREAT Post and Pro-Democracy = Pro-Union (18+ / 0-)

      this should be on the front-page.

      I would add that if someone is pro-democracy they have to be pro-union by definition

      "You think you can intimidate me? Screw you. Choose your Weapon." Eliot Spitzer

      by bonddad on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 08:13:05 AM PDT

    •  This diary is amazing (13+ / 0-)

      I've long wanted to see something this clear, this direct, this sensible making the case for unions. And now, we've got it.

      Thanks for this. It makes clear that unions are indispensible to economic security, to securing the middle class, to a progressive political future, to basic dignity on the job.

      Every time I hear someone say "oh, but unions are obsolete in today's economy" or some such bullshit, I fumble for the words to counter their obvious ignorance. Now, thanks to you, we all have those words.

      Great job.

      I'm not part of a redneck agenda - Green Day

      by eugene on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 08:14:34 AM PDT

    •  Devil's Advocate (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      dianem, kraant

      No disrespect intended, I just don't think that issues can be solved by patting each other on the back.

      I saw a survey a few years ago, I think it'd been commissioned by a labor union.  But it asked questions about public's perception of unions.  As I recall, for the most part people agreed with the points you make about the history of the unions.

      However there was one question, which was at the heart of why Unions gain no traction.

      What's in it for me, right now, right here?

      Most people's perception of unions is that they are greedy and demand better wages and benefits than what the average worker receives, and they have no positive impact on the average worker.

      That's generally why nobody cares.  When the unions were fighting for the 8 hour work day, the 40 hour work week, etc. then they cared.

      •  But this diary shows... (12+ / 0-)

        ...the many things that ARE in it for "me" right now, right here.

        You're right that the public's perception is what it is, but it's a perception based partly on ignorance and partly on decades of misinformation disseminated by well-financed anti-union forces.

        Part of what we need to do is reshape those perceptions, and diaries like this - which prove beyond all doubt that unions not only take good care of their members, but are the ONLY force that truly lifts all boats, including non-union workers - are essential to that process.

        I'm not part of a redneck agenda - Green Day

        by eugene on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 08:27:55 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yeahbut (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          dianem, kraant

          Most of what I ever seen talking about support of Unions and whats in it for me, is stuff that they did in the 1920s and 1930s.  While I understand and realize that was all very important.  It's not something happening right now.  The perception was unions were relevant once, but they no longer are, so why do we waste time supporting them.

          I guess the point is to change that, we need to stop talking about the past and start talking about the future.

          During the primary season last time around, I think Wes Clark during one of the debates talked about how Unions could become an important factor in helping to train workers for a modern environment.  That is, the reality is today, you may not have the same job for your entire life.  But a Union of auto mechanics doesn't much care about you if you become a pipe fitter.  The unions could help to make it easier for people to become more mobile between jobs, or cities, etc.

          I mean think about that too.  You lose your job in Detroit.  Someone helps you find a job in Chicago.  Moving from Detroit to Chicago is a big deal, it's scarey.  But what if you have a fraternal brotherhood who will help?  You show up in Chicago and ten guys you don't know but can trust come out to help unload your truck?  They help you find a place to live.  They explain to you what's happening in the community, where to go, what to do, etc.

          That's just a random thought.  Maybe unions already do that, but that's certainly not the perception.

          •  The model you're looking for (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            NickM, farleftcoast, kraant

            can be found in the teacher's unions - the NEA and the AFT primarily, but there are others.  These are national organizations that do have mechanisms in place to aid in relocation, mid-career transfers, and yes, separation from the profession.  

            Should a professional organization be obligated to retrain people who decide to leave their jobs?  If that's what you're asking for, then the answer is no.  A union, like any professional organization, looks out for the rights and welfare of its dues-paying members - people who are likewise members of a similar profession.  Why should it's obligation extend past the term of employment in the profession - better yet, why not organize and bargain a contract that requires employers to retrain laid-off workers or pay their resettlement costs?

            "He should bow to no authority and acknowledge no king" - Lucian

            by Unitary Moonbat on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 11:32:27 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Because... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              kraant

              Why should it's obligation extend past the term of employment in the profession

              It's probably why there are fewer unionized people today.  The Unions didn't work to keep the people inside the brotherhood.  Once they got laid off, lost their jobs... they were let loose with a hearty "thank god it's you and not me" and no gold watch.

          •  this is the point I made (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            farleftcoast, kraant

            sort of, in a backward way.

            I think we need some anecdotal stories about how unions have helped recently AND how that translates statistically.  And in there, we need to be reminded of the bad stories about employers who fire people at will on trumped up charges, focusing on the legal victories for those who've been fired.

            I believe it's impossible to change the perception until we first change it here, in the progressive community.

      •  If the perception you state (5+ / 0-)

        is correct, then it's probably due to a lack of awareness of what unions are currently fighting for. Besides organizing and collective bargaining for current union members, labor unions are also fighting for minimum wage increases, living wage, better health benefits for all, fair immigration reform, safe workplaces, etc. I think labor in general could do a better job of publicizing just what they do fight for. If they did, the public opinion would be higher.

        "For war, billions more, but no more for the poor" Reverend Joseph Lowery 02/07/06

        by Prison4Bushco on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 08:35:00 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Mot much of that matters to me (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          John DE, kraant

          Again playing Devil's advocate.

          I'm a white collar employee.  Let's assume that I'm your standard office worker.  I've got a family, wife, kids, dog, health care and a 401k plan.

          I'm making over minimum wage, my workplace is safe, I don't care about immigration other than H1-B visas because we're trying to find competent tech folks.

          But I do have a few issues that bug me.

          My 401k.  I don't feel like I have very much control over it.  If the company I work for has a crappy 401k provider, the only way I can get control over my money is to quit my job.  Then I can roll it over into an IRA.

          Similar with my healthcare.  I've worked for companies where the healthcare plan offered was CRAP.  Health or dental plans so bad, that there were no providers in your area who would accept it.  The reason?  I worked for a small to mid sized companies, and that's the best they could bargain.

          Why am I stuck to what plans my company offers me?  Why aren't there other alternatives?  Why can't I move my 401k money out into some other plan without having to quit?

          And what about childcare.  What are we doing about that?  It's fricking expensive.  Are there any alternatives?  What about a tax credit for grandparents who take care of their grandchildren?  Seems like this would be a good thing. Are we thinking outside the box on this?

          Do you understand my point?

          Labor in this country has evolved.  If you want to talk about labor issues, it's not the minimum wage.

          •  These are interesting thoughts (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            farleftcoast, kraant, The Other Steve

            Same with your other post, I'll just condense them both here.

            So what you are talking about is more like an extended fraternity.  You know the handshakes, have people to help you out even when you leave the group.

            Maybe with the coalitions like AFL or CIO, they may be helpful in aiding the cross-training of employees that get booted from one sector and have to go after another.  As others have been saying, it is not just companies in other parts of the country we have to worry about - now it is the entire world.  There will probably have to be some combination of traditional solidarity (cross-striking) and a new style of solidarity, where we come together to try and solve the greater problems.

            The guys pulling the company levers are going to look for lower wages and other ways to drop cost without reducing quality.  I guess the other power bloc will have to find ways to make its members invaluable.  It's kind of like the stated goals of the pro orgs, but with something actually on the line to achieve those goals.

          •  Healthcare tangent (4+ / 0-)

            Why do we expect our employers to provide Medical and Dental?

            Back in the early to mid 90's employers had to offer the BEST perks to get workers.  I was lucky since my company was ultimatly owned by Time Warner so we had a faboulous package.  Later in the decade when I moved to a much higher paying job but a smaller company the medical/dental was not even worth having.  Now in the Bush era, most jobs I have interviewed for either offer nothing or a riduclasly high buy in...  I havent had health insurance for 5 years now.  I lost some teeth because it was under $100 to pull them and over $1000 per tooth to save them.  

            My senior mom needs healthcare mroe than I do but her company is constaly swicthing plans and she has to change doctors ever couple of years.  Even her medicaid.care is pathetic.  She had to be nearly blind before they would kick in for her cataracts.  She couldnt just fail the test on purpose because it would have given her a bad perscription for her glasses.  She couldnt even drive at night for about 2 years.  Some of the ones she sees I can only compare to Jiffy Lube.  They dont really look like the doctors offices i remeber as a child.

            I agree health care is a national problem.  I am just wondering though why we as a nation expect employers to pick up the tab.  Shouldnt it be a perk and not a requirement.  Arent we advocating forcing businesses to in effect pick up the tab for a socialist agenda that would be better handled by the government  Why is healtcare being made a LAbor issue.

            It just irks me hearing Bushco talk about "seeing a doctor" of your choice when thats not the case.  You can only see people in your plan and even then it often takes up to a month to even get an appointment

            www.tasinifornewyork.org

            by naufragus on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 11:39:15 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Absolutely right. Unions are surprisingly (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            kraant, The Other Steve

            sophisticated and responsive when membership demands it.  For example, unions have negotiated ESOP's to help keep firms going (not always successfully); doing so requires hiring state of the art consulting and financial management teams.  They put employees in the position to collectively gain the knowledge and credibility of experts in their pertinent fields, whether that is bankruptcy, labor law, finance, economic modeling, etc.  (And unions have the natural advantage of consulting with the experts "on the ground" who actually know how their jobs are done, which management often lacks.) In the entertainment industry, they tap into streams of income (e.g., residuals for repeat showings of TV, sales of DVD's) and seek protection for artists' rights that aren't available or relevant to most workers. Issues of safety and health, the need for whistleblowers and other monitoring, vary widely from worksite to worksite. So, unions can and do adjust their sights and objectives to the relevant work force, and in accordance with the workers' needs.  

          •  Mimimum wage is a big part of it.. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            farleftcoast

            Organized labor raises all boats. If low-wage workers are organized, earning higher wages, they are more likely to spend money thus your small firm grows larger. More profits means more growth which means more competition which means higher wages and better benefits for you (not to mention a more robust 401K, although I'd rather a pension any day).

            It's all connected. We all know trickle down is a load of bullshit, this is how you grow an economy.

            "How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake?" -John Kerry, 1971 but what we needed to hear in 2003/2004

            by Demise on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 09:16:54 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  I have to admit that this is my perception (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        StuartZ, kraant, The Other Steve

        To me it seems that unions are a good thing when they start out, but eventually get corrupted to the point that they become nothing more than a system for sqeezing employers for everything they can get. They engineer their own destruction by making it cheaper for employers to move their operations overseas than to pay what the union demands. I am very sympathetic to the idea that people should be paid a decent wage (I haven't shopped at Wal-Mart in many years), but I am also sympathetic to the need for businesses to be competitive. I think that unions are, overall, a good thing, but in many instances their leaders become so focuses on what they can get for their memebers that they lose sight of the reality that businesses have to make a profit.

        And no, I don't put all of the onus on unions. Businesses who pay executives outrageous salaries contribute to the problem, as well. I guess the real problem is the "tragedy of the commons", where each everybody ends up suffering as a result. I remember a movie from the 80's with Michael Dougls saying "Greed is Good".  But it isn't. Greed is bad, whether it comes from an executive or a union member.  

        •  Please be aware that corporations train (6+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          eugene, Mooncat, Budlawman, Ice Blue, kraant, gpdx

          their managers to be on the outlook for any whisper of evidence of union organization. First time managers are trained in this and all managers are typically refreshed on these points every year.

          I imagine much more goes on behind the scenes that could be much dirtier.

          And, of course, IMHO outsourcing is the biggest crime of all - getting away from unions altogether.

          We're blues people. And blues never lets tragedy have the last word. -Wynton Marsalis

          by paluxy1945 on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 09:02:13 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  It's capitalism (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            StuartZ, kraant

            Some years ago, I took and environmental class and Macro Economics at the same time. At some point during the semester, I realized that they were about the same thing: Supply and demand, survival of the fittest, niche partitioning, etc. Businesses have to compete for resources efficiently in the current environment, just like animals and plants have to competer for resources in the woods. The only way to control this is to change the environment. Boycotts work, to an extent. Look how Wal-Mart is trying to clean up it's image. But the only really effective way of changing the environment is to regulate businesses in ways that make it more profitable to take actions that are in the best interest of everybody. The Tragedy of the Commons will occur unless each member of the commons is forced to limit his use of the commons. The problem is that the current crop of politicians don't want to regulate businesses. They think that capitalism will somehow make everything work out all right. They tried that with animals in Africa - put a bunch of animals on a preserve and let them live in harmony. It doens't work. Certain species end up reproducing too much, at which point the eat all the food and every species suffers (an animal version of the tragedy of the commons).  You have to regulate.

            So what does this have to do with Unions?  They are just another member of the greedy commons. They don't want THEIR behavior regulated any more than businesses do. They look out for THEIR members, but don't pay a lot of heed to the good of the nation. IMO, the answer to low wages and bad working conditions should not be unions. It should be laws that provide better minimum wages and working conditions for everybody. Unions like to claim that they brought wages up for everybody, and in a way they did - by supporting politicians who wrote good laws.  But overall, Unions suffer from a perception that they care only about their own members, which makes it unlikely that non-Union members are going to care for them in return.

            •  A Myth (14+ / 0-)

              First, a minimum wage is just that, a minimum.

              What is the best way to determine wage levels across an economy?  Having workers collectively negotiate for those wage levels, ie. a union.

              As for whether unions care for other workers; it's hardly an accident that politicians supported by unions pass laws to help all workers.  That's one of the goals of unions beyond collective bargaining.  

              My story above about the history of civil rights laws is directly a counter to the myth that unions did not support the broader social justice mission of progressives.  They did.  

              But there's a lot of propaganda out there trying to discredit unions and your comments reflect its penetration into the public consciousness.

              •  Then get the message out (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                dianem, kraant

                But there's a lot of propaganda out there trying to discredit unions and your comments reflect its penetration into the public consciousness.

                Right now the Unions are doing a piss poor job at letting people know that they care about anybody other than their union membership.

                •  I'm open to counter propaganda (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  kraant, The Other Steve

                  I became less pro-union when I was working on my first  job after I graduated college. Part of my job was to help put together bids for work in a landscaping firm. That's where I learned about "prevailing wages". People with no experience or education were supposed to be paid about $35/hour to dig holes to plant trees.  This is a lot more than I was making, and more than most of our field guys were making.  It seemed ridiculous at the time. It caused a lot of hostility among the field workers, since they had to compete with each other for the higher paying jobs. And this was not a particularly low-paying company. It's just ridiculous to pay somebody $35/hour to plant trees. It dramatically increases the cost of environmental restoration for everybody. This goes way beyond a "living wage". It's sheer greed.

                  Like I said, I think that Unions can be good.  I'm not by any stretch anti-Union. I just don't think that they are universally good.

                  •  $72,800 a year to plant trees? (3+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    dianem, kraant, The Other Steve

                    Really? Please let me know where I can apply.

                    •  No application necessary (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      kraant

                      You do have to be related to Joe, or at least good friends with Bugsy.

                      Seriously, it's amazing how many of these examples there are out there, and what tremendous impact they've had on the perception of Unions.  I understand most people in unions don't get these kinds of perks.   My aunt is a union organizer down in Iowa.

                      But it's not the corporations who spread this stuff... When you find a guy getting $35 to dig a hole or push a broom, everybody is outraged.

                      •  I wasn't clear (5+ / 0-)

                        Sorry - I'm not trying to sandbag dianem and O-Steve, but I don't buy that there are ANY guys with no training and no special knowledge digging holes for $35/hour, unless they are the boss's son.  I work for a union, and I can tell you that workers in a call center/customer service unit we represent with jobs that require a fair amount of pretty intensive training top out around $18/hr after 12 years - which is considered exceptionally good by many people.   I do not believe that there are jobs publically available to any schmo off the street starting at $35/hr when there are Mexicans that will do the work for $3/hr.

                        I'm sorry dianem but you are exaggerating pretty grossly or leaving something out of the story.

                      •  What you describe... (3+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        Marek, farleftcoast, kraant

                        Sounds a lot like a corporation to me. :)

                        "How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake?" -John Kerry, 1971 but what we needed to hear in 2003/2004

                        by Demise on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 09:30:41 PM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                  •  Whenever I hear about the occasional (7+ / 0-)

                    apparent "overpayment" of labor, I have to express the hope that folks get just as outraged over CEO avarice, which comes at a much higher price than $35 per hour.  There was just that oil guy who walked away with $700 million (was that Chevron?); there was Mike Milken who did some time, gave back something in the 9-figure range and still had piles of cash left; Mike Ovitz walked away with a $100 million golden parachute after a year or two of failure at Disney; let's not talk about "Kenny Boy".  The ratio between CEO pay and perks and rank and file pay is higher here than in almost any other country, and it's obscene.  And please don't tell me about pro athletes and entertainment stars; at least they are bringing the fans to the ballpark or moving the CD's and DVD's.  Until George Steinbrenner throws a 95 MPH heater, or Mark Cuban can dunk over Shaq, they can continue to pay the big bucks to (and profit from) the people who draw the fans who buy the overpriced beer, dogs and popcorn, not to mention those fan-lites who bilk their own shareholders to get a piece of one of Cuban's luxury boxes.

                    •  Yup (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      kraant

                      Everybody is outraged about CEO salaries.

                      There was a basketball player with the Timberwolves who made a statement about how he was just trying to provide food for his family, when he rejected a $5 million a year offer as being too little.

                      Everybody knows the sports guys are unionized to, which probably doesn't help the perception either.

                      •  That was Latrell Sprewell (1+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        kraant

                        who has other image problems to contend with.  But the  b-ball players' union doesn''t negotiate the actual salaries the players get above the minimum.  

                        One further point: the true capitalists should be applauding players and entertainers who make a mint: they are merely taking advantage of the "market", of low supply and high demand.  Back in the day when Mickey Mantle and Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson all made south of $200,000 at the top of their careers, that was not OK, and the owners had successfully suppressed the "market".  Once free agency took over, there was "price" or "wage" competition which was going to give the advantage to the athletes.  We should remember, however, that these players' careers are usually very short, can end with one injury (e.g., Steeler QB Ben Rothlisberger just got in a motorcycle accident), so they have extra incentive to make as much as they can as soon as they can.

                      •  Pro Athletes... (2+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        Budlawman, kraant

                        ....deserve every penny they get. They are the talent on which an enormous industry is based. These people get 20,000 fans to shell out good money to show up in 30 different areans 82 times per season. Not to mention all the merchandise and seven dollar beers that get sold. I'd much rather a talented athlete get a ton of money than some greedy owner.

                    •  If it's any comfot... I do n/t (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      kraant
                  •  A different response to this situation (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    Budlawman, farleftcoast

                    Here's a different response to your example of hearing that somebody is getting $35 an hour to dig tree holes: "Wow, good for them. I wonder if a union can help me get $35 an hour for doing my job?"

                    Seriously, why are people more upset about somebody making $35 an hour for digging tree holes, instead of somebody making a million dollars a day for running a corporation into the ground? I'll tell you why: because the guy making $35 an hour is a hell of a lot closer to you. It's like you attacking the other crow while you both are picking at crumbs, instead of wondering why somebody else got to eat the whole damn buffet table. Let's start lifting our eyes to what's happening with that buffet table instead of attacking a working guy who got in on a good deal.

                    A word after a word after a word is power. -- Margaret Atwood

                    by tmo on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 06:22:15 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  I worked a union job.. (2+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      Budlawman, kraant

                      Earning $24 an hour to just make sure a machine stayed full for the 3-4 hours it was actually running in the 7 1/2 shift (30 min unpaid lunch but 40 mins of paid breaks). My dues were $8 a shift, thus I paid my dues off in the first hour. The top rate of pay (based on senority) topped $30+.

                      The reason for the high wage? The company posts profits in the tens of millions. Collective bargaining is going to tie into the overall strength of a corporation. Not everyone is going to earn the same amount for doing a similar job. I knew of other workers (albeit non-union) working for smaller companies making $12 an hour working the same machines.

                      When you get a seat at the table, your options are vastly diferent than otherwise.

                      "How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake?" -John Kerry, 1971 but what we needed to hear in 2003/2004

                      by Demise on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 09:40:47 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                •  Yeah. They are and they know it (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  farleftcoast, kraant

                  That's one of the reasons that they were there this weekend.  They came because we are a megaphone; an endrun around the corporate media.  This diary, yesterdays diary and all the past work of the union folks and supporters here are a jumping off point.  Now let's jump.

                  A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.

                  by Webster on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 11:45:31 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                •  then you get the message out! (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  kraant

                  The message is out there if you choose to look. Maybe the negative perception about organized labor is easy to spread "out there" because you are taking part in making those bologna sandwiches. The information in this diary is not as easily dismissed as you would like to make it.

                  Infidels in all ages have battled for the rights of man, and have at all times been the advocates of truth and justice... Robert Ingersol

                  by BMarshall on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 02:38:58 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

              •  There is another way (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                kraant

                If the economy is strong enough that workers can easily find new jobs, then employers are forced to pay decent wages to retain workers. We all benefitted during the Clinton years, not because Unions were stronger, but because employers were having a hard time attracting and retaining good employees. Minimum wage laws are necessary to protect the poorest - those who don't have any bargaining power. Even during the strongest union eras, we have always had people who simply didn't have a lot of skills to bargain with. Unions never did anything to protect them. They bargained only for their members.

                •  But by bargaining for their members (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  BMarshall, farleftcoast

                  they bargain for everyone.  People complain about not having healthcare because unions got healthcare for their members.  People get paid more for overtime because unions supported politicians who passed overtime laws.

                  The union creates a higher standard for their members, which becomes the accepted standard, which becomes the law.  I've worked in construction for a few years and I know I can refuse to do stupid dangerous things that are "required" of me by my job because of OSHA.

                  A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.

                  by Webster on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 11:52:22 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

            •  'Unions only care about their Members' (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              farleftcoast, kraant

              Not true. Unions want to organize and build power, you can't do that effectively if you are only looking out for yourself. If unions only care about their own members, how come millions of dollars are being invested in organizing hundreds of thousands of workers across the country right now?

              There are small Locals that have low memberships and small operating budgets. They don't have the funds for organizing and tend to have to fight for every contract. In these cases, the local union tends to be more cautious and watches out for it's own but it's certainly not the norm.

              "How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake?" -John Kerry, 1971 but what we needed to hear in 2003/2004

              by Demise on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 09:28:53 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Even small locals that I represent as a lawyer (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Marek, farleftcoast, kraant

                do what they can, with limited finances and personpower to help local political candidates, organize worksites, and support area job actions.  I can't think of any union, no matter how small, that won't support a "brother" or "sister" union in need, in whatever small way it can.  They do have to watch out for their own membership, but they are always reaching out to help the needy (union or not), those fighting similar battles, and those allies who will help them fight those battles.

        •  Examples? (6+ / 0-)

          I know that's a widely shared perception, but can you think of any examples of the things you describe?

          Union corruption exists, but is overstated, and pales in comparison both in number and in overall volume to corporate corruption. And they're not the same - while union corruption is annoying, corporate corruption leads to people losing jobs, life savings, etc.

          As to business profitability, I don't know of a single example where a union has kept a business from making a profit. It's obviously in the union's interest to see companies make money - otherwise their workers lose out!

          In the case of GM, for example, their problems aren't due to unions at all (though that's what they'd have you believe) but instead to bad choices in terms of car design and marketing, things the union has little control over.

          I'm not part of a redneck agenda - Green Day

          by eugene on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 09:24:59 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  A recent example (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            dianem, kraant

            Ailing GM looks to scale back generous health benefits

            Although I've seen this issue also come up with the AFSCME negotiations at our state level.  And this isn't entirely fair to the UAW because they realized that their benefits were out of line and were willing to negotiate them with GM to save the company.

            But according to the chart in that article, UAW health care benefits at GM, involved no employee paid premium, and no co-pay.

            The typical health care benefits that most everybody else in America(if they even have healthcare) gets is around $175 a month premium(for a family plan), and a $15-25 co-pay per visit and for prescriptions.

            When companies try to negotiate that with the unions, and put their benefits in line with the rest of the industry, they get strike threats.  It was incredible a year or two ago when AFSCME was threatening to strike because the state was going to increase their co-pay to like $10-15 a point that's still far below what everybody else in the is paying.

            While I have sympathy for unions, I don't think it is at all helpful to continue living with our heads in a hole and hide from the reality of the perception that unions have made for themselves in our society.

            From the polling I've seen, the Unions would benefit with sympathy if they were fighting for EVERYBODY to have a $10 co-pay, but they're not.  They only fight for their membership.  That is why they have lost support.

            •  But how long after the unions go to a $25 (6+ / 0-)

              copay do the other companies raise it to 30-35?  And then we say that that's not an unreasonable jump either.  When they hold the line, it benefits everyone.

              A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.

              by Webster on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 11:55:25 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  Why should they bargain for everybody else? (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              John DE

              That's like a tavern giving away free beer.  They have limited resources. ALl the bargaining, lobbying, advertising, salaries, strike funds, etc.  come from where?  Oh yeah, the MEMBERSHIP!  That's why people join unions and pay dues to them.  I am a member of NEA.  I do not expect AFSCME  or UAW to bargain for teachers out of the goodness of their heart.  Unions do not directly bargain for everyone, because not everyone pays dues.  Why should my hard earned money that I give to the NEA go to mine workers?  That's ridiculous.  It doesn't mean that I wouldn't stand in solidarity with mine workers, or auto workers, or any othe unionized employee.  It doesn't mean I wouldn't contribute to their strike fund or wouldn't stand on the picket line with them, or wouldn't boycott their employers.  That's what unions do.  They look out for their paying membership first, but solidly back their fellow unions when they need it.  That is Union.  That is solidarity.  That is a bunch of little guys standing up to the big whigs- TOGETHER.

              •  Fine (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                dianem, kraant

                But don't come to non-union members and demand we respect and support unions.

                It's the job market version of "If you aren't fighting for us, you are fighting against us"

                •  Job market version of... (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  John DE, kraant

                  pay up or shut up.

                  •  Sure... (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    Webster

                    But y'know what?

                    If them folks know that you're fighting for them too they won't be turning scab and crossing that picket line.

                    Don't be a fuckhead! HTH k thnx. ps. THERE IS NO SEKRIT TROLL-HUNTING CABAL! (Feed trolls not.)

                    by kraant on Wed Jun 14, 2006 at 09:07:29 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  The whole point is (2+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      Budlawman, kraant

                      unions DO fight for them!  This whole diary is trying to show that when unions prosper, all workers prosper.  The unions just cannot afford to legally represent everyone, nor should they be expected to.  Their first financial responsibility is to their PAYING membership, but the goal of the entire movement is to improve working conditions for everyone.  That is the point the diarist is trying to make.  That is the point I am trying to make.  I just cannot sit idly by when people post that they shouldn't support unions when the unions don't help them.  The easiest way to see unions help you is first and foremost to join one.  You will get far and away more benefit from that.  However, as I mentioned earlier, all workers benefit indirectly from union victories.  I don't know how else to explain that.  The diarist does a great job of showing it graphically and verbally, and yet here I am still arguing that very point two days later.  We are on the same side!

                      •  I know we're on the same side :) (1+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        HistoryTeacher

                        We're arguing details and tactics here...

                        Over here in the great down under, unions will rep for non-members in trouble, although they'll strongly encourage them to join, because it breeds good will.

                        Don't be a fuckhead! HTH k thnx. ps. THERE IS NO SEKRIT TROLL-HUNTING CABAL! (Feed trolls not.)

                        by kraant on Wed Jun 14, 2006 at 10:58:22 AM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  You are from OZ?!?!?!? (1+ / 0-)
                          Recommended by:
                          kraant

                          I love that place.  I've been to visit twice.  About 10 months after my wife and I made our first visit our last souvenir of the trip was delivered- out daughter Sydney. We thought Sydney sounded much better than Mooloolaba or Coff's Harbor!)  Actually the blessed event probably happened in New Zealand, but Sydney is a much prettier name that Auckland or Rotorua.

                          I think it's great that you guys bargain for non-members and it works.  I'm wondering if the system is similar to our Fair Share laws.  In a lot of unions here that have rules where all employees of a company must pay their "fair share" to be represented by the union.  That is because it is federal law here that if a company is unionized, the union MUST represent ALL the employees regardless of membership.  The Fair Share laws came into play when people realized they could get all the benefits of union protection without paying the dues.  I do not doubt the merit of that practice.  In fact, most people just end up joining the union if they have to pay anyway.  My objection to the post earlier that implied a union for construction workers should just up and represent any ol' worker, even non-construction workers, if their employee is mistreating them.  That is financially irresponsible on the part of the union.

            •  Universal single payer health care (7+ / 0-)

              is ultimately the solution, because employer-based health care is collapsing.  But you are incorrect to say that unions are not fighting for that kind of largescale improvement in this vital area, because they are:

              http://www.aflcio.org/...

              That's why when people complain that unions shouldn't be in the political arena (and I know you haven't said this, TOS), they are wrong, because if they departed they'd leave the field even more wide open for the anti-worker, anti-consumer corporate interests that already dominate.  

              On a more narrow point, unions at the bargaining table can only legally and rationally advocate a deal for the employees they represent.  In the public arena, many unions advocate, and have been fighting for, a health care system that takes the burden off employers.  I understand we are one of the few "developed" nations on earth that still delivers health care in this way, and that's why 46 million Americans are uncovered.

        •  It's a question of 'sharing' (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Webster

          As timid as that sounds, or as "Marxist" as it might sound, workers through unions are trying to get the workers their fair share of the profit they produce.  There is always going to be a tension between labor and capital, which is why whenever the Rethugs scream "class warfare" about someone complaining about rich/poor disparity, the courageous answer should be "Damn right, and it's about time the working class won one!".  But if management could really show that a union's demands were hurting profit, most unions would be reasonable, because they do understand the need for the business to remain alive.  That is why the UAW and all the airline unions have given back literally billions in concessions to keep their employers operating.  Too often management stabs workers in the back when they rebound thanks to those concessions.

          But management is also always looking for lower costs, and those costs are always going to be lower in China, the Far East, Central America.  Which is why there has to be international organizing, and a stop to human rights abuses and much more labor protection in those countries housing the suppliers of the Wal-Marts of the world. Ultimately, labor rights and human rights merge.  

        •  would you change your mind (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          farleftcoast, kraant

          if you had stories of real workers who have their rights trampled every day?

          http://www.techsunite.org/...

          http://www.americanrightsatwork.org/

        •  My feelings on this (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          kraant

          I think things get worse when some leaders hold the reins for too damn long. I have some personal experiences that back my opinion but this is not the forum to air them...

          I could be wrong but the longer a leader is in power, the more open they become to corruption. I think this is true in all organizations, not just labor. It's best to get new talent into leadership over time and not let the old bastards retain control.

          "How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake?" -John Kerry, 1971 but what we needed to hear in 2003/2004

          by Demise on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 09:20:20 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Here's what's in it for you (14+ / 0-)

        Nathan left one thing out, or maybe my eyes glazed over. Like Nathan, I have worked on the front lines in organizing, representational work, and bargaining, mostly as a shop steward in the Newspaper Guild, but also as (all too briefly) a business agent for the Teamsters.

        Wherever I go, and no matter who I talk to, if you engage people about their jobs long enough and in enough depth, sooner or later, for most people, this statement, or some variation of it, will come out:

        "My boss is an idiot."

        Think about that for a second. What does it mean? Are all bosses idiots? Of course not. Are all employees who say that their bosses are idiots just slackers and malcontents? Again, no.

        Then why do so many people think, feel, and say that their bosses are idiots? Why is it so universal? And  admit it, it is universal.

        I have concluded, from almost 50 years in the workforce, that most people want to work. Most people want to be productive. Most people think about their work, inasmuch as their jobs allow for it. Most people want their jobs to mean something, and most people want to build on their work experience and use it as a basis to be more productive and thereby to earn a better living.

        This applies to bosses, too, and even to junior and middle management, as hard as that might be to believe sometimes.

        Supervisors have pressures on them that non-supervisory employees do not have. Their bosses are idiots, too. The farther up the ladder they go, the more removed they get from the "shop floor," and the less their decisions have to do with the actual work being done. And yes, that is even true in Japan, Mr. Honda's shifts on the assembly line notwithstanding.

        So to get to the point, when some diktat comes down from "corporate," that changes your working conditions, and you know it's bullshit, and your boss knows it's bullshit, this is where your union comes in.

        Any change that affects your wages, hours, or working conditions might well be a subject of mandatory bargaining, which means that the employer must bargain any such change with your union.

        Did you know this? Most people don't. Not even most union members know it. In my experience, most union members thought, "oh, well, our contract has a 'management rights' clause, so they can do whatever they want in running the company."

        Well, it's pretty obvious, isn't it, that if you don't have a union contract, your boss, who is an idiot, remember, doesn't have to bargain DICK!

        Ask yourself if you care about that. Maybe you don't. But a lot of people do. And they need a union!

        "Lash those traitors and conservatives with the pen of gall and wormwood. Let them feel -- no temporising!" - Andrew Jackson to Francis Preston Blair, 1835

        by Ivan on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 08:57:59 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  An excellent point to bring up (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          eugene, kraant, maren a

          and maybe even to the management as well.  There is a lot of manager-speak about 'learning organizations' and 'innovation' and all that out there right now.

          The big problem, of course, is that innovation is going to occur on the shop floor or the cubicle maze (with the nerds), not the boardrooms.  The union/trade guild/whatever would be an excellent conduit for negotiating the best conditions for all this creativity to happen.

          Although there are some companies out there now that are trying to get the technical wizards higher into the hierarchy without supervisory duties in order to promote higher rates of invention inside the company.  This may also play the same role.

        •  the boss is an idiot (10+ / 0-)

          My main issue with unions is that, with seniority being the primary factor in everything, they treat workers as essentially interchangeable.  This has come up in CA wrt the teachers' union and merit pay proposals -- teachers are not all equal, and years of experience is often not the distinguishing factor, and differences between teacher quality have a huge impact on the kids involved.

          That said, my husband is a member of the CA teachers' union, and has always considered himself "one of the good ones".  However, his wonderful supervisor retired a year ago, and was replaced by someone who just doesn't like my husband, gave him an unsatisfactory performance evaluation, and tried to get him fired.  Despite apparently widespread dislike of this new supervisor, and numerous letters from parents and other faculty on my husband's behalf, the principal stood by the supervisor.  Without the union and the collective bargaining agreement, my husband would have no recourse at all.  His job is still not safe, but now the onus is on the administration to prove that he is an incompentent teacher (which he's not), and he has a union rep on his side to help assert his rights.

          We've always been pro-union, but until now it has always been just an abstraction for us.  Now it's a little more concrete...

          •  This hits the nail on the head (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            StuartZ, ppluto, farleftcoast, kraant

            People -- including people in this and NN's last thread -- think unions protect only the lazy unproductive bozos.  And frankly, yes, some of 'em do get protected to the detriment of others.  But unions also offer protection to people like your husband, who are threatened and victimized because of discriminatory, arbitrary, intolerant, egotistical, pigheaded bosses.  Without seniority, and the ability to challenge unfair discipline and firings (and other management action), such bosses would terrorize the workplace.  It's not foolproof, it is difficult to get rid of incompetent teachers, but it should be.  We should not have to rely on the say-so of some supervisor/AP who doesn't set foot in the classroom.  If management gets wind of an incompetent, they should be able to prove that the person can't teach before firing him/her.  The burden is, and should be, on management after the teacher has passed probation.  Arnold tried to lengthen the probationary period in one of his bogus "reforms", it was recognized for the anti-teacher attack that it was, and was defeated.

            In this country, unions are resisted in part because of this almost religious belief in "rugged individualism", that competition will allow the best to rise to the top, and that all should be a meritocracy.  People who worship on that altar forget about "good old boys", discrimination, nepotism, cronyism, good old-fashioned corruption, and even good faith misperception of people's skills and abilities.  I know I've worked at places where I was either able or unable to make a good first impression, and that was all that mattered, for good or ill.  In the former case, I could do no wrong.  In the latter, I was always trying to catch up.  People are all fallible, especially management.  The system of union protection is an important corrective for those inevitable errors, and actually can protect management from some of the more serious consequences of those errors.

            One hopes that teachers continue to be energized and enthusiastic year after year, and that's difficult.  My wife did it, and I don't know how she managed.  But if some management dork decided he/she didn't like her, there ought to be more proof necessary than a sporadic complaint from an unhappy parent, or the impressionistic observation from an overworked principal.  

      •  People don't care b/c the concept of solidarity.. (7+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        eugene, NickM, BMarshall, Webster, kraant, maren a, gpdx

        is passe in our society.  The concept of acting for the good of all is widely derided.  I always thought that this site served as an antidote to that approach.  If you don't believe in collective action, then why come here?

        Some men see things as they are and ask why. I see things that never were and ask why not?

        by RFK Lives on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 09:06:03 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  The Contradiction... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        farleftcoast, kraant

        In what you say is that "unions" are "greedy and demand better wages and benefits than what the average worker recieves" then "they have no positive impact on the average worker".

        Unions do collect dues to fund negotiations, strikes, administration, etc BUT workers under union contracts earn signifigantly more than the cost of their dues. Also, the boost that unionized workers recieve in wages and benefits translates into higher wages for non-union workers as employers compete for the quality workers in the labor market.

        Also, eventually workers are going to be fighting for the 35 or even 30 hour work week (simply because of population and job availability). 4 shifts in one day as oppose to 3. This will give Americans more time with their families, more time to relax and relieve a shitload of the stress we currently operate under as a society. That struggle is going to require organized labor.

        "How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake?" -John Kerry, 1971 but what we needed to hear in 2003/2004

        by Demise on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 09:12:47 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Recommending because ... (7+ / 0-)

      ...we all depend on people who actually grow, make and fix products for us and  take care of us.

    •  Beyond a great post.. (5+ / 0-)

      Awesome!!

      One of the things I am troubled about with this site these days is the diaries on economics.  They seldom reference what Unions think about things like globalization or broader economics issues.

      In a sense we are guilty of not listening to the groups that are on the economic front lines.

    •  this is a great diary (7+ / 0-)

      should be on the desk of every dem in the country

      Those were good times, as far as we knew. --Colbert

      by AmericanHope on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 08:25:45 AM PDT

    •  Brilliant (7+ / 0-)

      This should be permanently posted somewhere on Daily Kos for all to see.

      "Get your hands off our Internet" -- U.S. phone and cable companies, to bloggers and independent Internet content producers

      by bink on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 08:32:02 AM PDT

    •  and on a more elemental level (5+ / 0-)

      Now that you know the history of unions, you might want to read a little Saul Alinsky on the basics of organizing.  If this history of unions is your textbook, than the nuts and bolts of organizing are your ABC's.

      Talkin' Organizing (by Dancing Larry)

      9 counties, 70 towns, 200 miles, and one monstrous and unnecessary project. Stop NYRI.

      by NYCO on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 08:37:27 AM PDT

    •  As a UAW and GMP endorsed candidate (10+ / 0-)

      and as a former Union public school teacher and as a former IBEW memeber, who's dad was UAW and who's sisters and cousins and uncles and on and on are UAW, I say THANK YOU!

      Barry Welsh Indiana 6th District Democratic Party Congressional Candidate

      It's simple Math PENCE=BUSH=MITCH=Bad for Indiana+Bad for America

      by Barry Welsh on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 08:45:01 AM PDT

    •  Resurgence of unions (5+ / 0-)

      Unions ought to rise up again.  As the middle class dissolves, there needs to be strength in numbers for the workers.

    •  Excellent diary, Thanks for this (20+ / 0-)

      Many people around here seem to be anti-union for god knows whatever reason. A primer like this might open a few eyes to the reality of the situation. I'm particularly distraught at the anti-union feeling regarding auto workers, as if it's our fault that GM and Ford are having problems. We negotiated those contracts. GM and Ford had to agree to them. How you can blame union workers for wanting a better life for their families is beyond me.  Possibly it's just a genuine feeling of concern about CEO's and the wealthy that permeates the anti-union sentiment.  After all, mine owners are such nice people to care so much about their employees when there are cave-ins.  They're the real victims, aren't they?

      Look, we don't design the cars, we just do the best we can to build them and we do a good job at it. The days of don't buy a car built on a monday or friday are long gone in the auto industry.  We had to change our ways or we'd kill ourselves. We did. The auto companies management didn't.  The price of oil went down and the size of cars went up in the 80's and 90's.  That wasn't the lesson that should have been learned in the 70's. It was precisely the opposite lesson. How that can be blamed on the union is beyond me.

      As one afterthought, in addition to the fear of being fired problem in union organizing, there's also the carrot that the Asian auto companies used.  They gave basically the same wages and benefits to American workers to dissuade them from joining the union when they built plants here. However, they left out job protection and work rule benefits when they did that.  They also left out the benefit of having a contract.  If the American auto companies manage to destroy the UAW, how long do you think it will take for the Asian automakers to demolish their wage and benefit packages with no union protecting them?  Overnight, maybe?  It won't take long.  The Asian automakers aren't here to provide a better way of life, they're here to make as much money as they can. If that means screwing their workers, they'll do that in one heck of a short time.

      "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness." Mark Twain

      by dougymi on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 08:55:53 AM PDT

    •  Great diary (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kraant, NearlyNormal, Wage Warrior II

      Greatly appreciated.
      A little off topic, but I kind of want to get this off my chest.  
      You may not like some of the products Ford and GM and to a lesser extent Daimler-Chysler put out there, but when I see closed-minded ill-informed piling on of these companies, for whatever reason, you're talking also about the UAW.  Labor almost always votes Dem.  And it bothers me to see broadsided pot-shots thrown out there.  The UAW is shrinking due to mass layoffs and buy-outs which is also reducing their power to negotiate for the workers.  
      I'm not saying go out and buy big 3, I'm just saying, it's disheartening to see these broadside slams against these strongly union companies.

      Dont you wanna know how we keep starting fires!? It's my desire, It's my desire, It's my desire! E6

      by Stomp 442 on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 08:57:30 AM PDT

    •  I am just so very pleased... (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      eugene, kraant, maren a, FireCrow, NearlyNormal

      to see such a superbly put together diary, on what is IMO, a topic far too rarely addressed.
      Sincerely, many, many thanks.

      "We have too many high-sounding words, and too few actions that correspond with them." Abigail Adams 1764

      by greeseyparrot on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 09:16:29 AM PDT

    •  Im having trouble expanding comments (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Webster, kraant, NearlyNormal

      But in another thread someone said that UNIONS need to break away from their persona of corruption. And we dont need them becuase of the bosses and favortism whatever. Yeah well with that mindset let's get rid of our form of democracy then. Oh Norquist is doing that. It's all about participation and believing in the process. Look, Everyone works and it still floors me! this is what we ALL have in common. We all work (or are trying to find work) Republicans, gay, ethnic, gender handicapped whatever...and why we ALL dont come together as one (workers) I just dont know. There is power in the UNION or masses or whatever, especially when you go up against those in power.

      "If you're not complaining, you're not paying attention."--My grandfather

      by JackAshe on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 09:16:48 AM PDT

    •  unionizing the professionals (4+ / 0-)

      Currently we have professional societies which really don't act as unions and on top of it, are getting into conflict with their international counterparts.

      Professionals who often have management positions or leadership positions, want to be a free agent and also think for themselves and make decisions based on their own logic.

      My question is, in Sweden, Finland and Norway, professionals are in the union, so what is it (beyond cultural) that attracted professionals to join forces and how can that be adapted in the United States to still give flexibility iindependence yet a coalition of force against age discrimination, "at will", labor arbitrage, reduced pay, probably number one is corporate raiders manipulating bankruptcy law to get out of their pension obligations, switch to 401ks that do not even have matching contributions and so on?

      It seems there is no structure currently to deal with the needs of professionals, enable them to be free agents to a degree, yet join forces together to protect American labor and work values.

      http://www.noslaves.com http://forum.noslaves.com

      by BobOak on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 09:19:11 AM PDT

      •  Because it's against the law... (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        sockpuppet, John DE, BobOak, kraant
        In the U.S. for any manager or supervisor to be in a union.  In other nations, this isn't the case.  Ergo, their supervisory unions survived and ours went poof.  

        In the public sector in some states in the U.S., supervisors can and do organize, and have formed strong locals in some places.  It's just a matter of how the law has shaped consciousness really.  

        •  Not quite accurate (8+ / 0-)

          Managers can't be in a union, but professionals, as long as they don't supervise other people, can be.

          However, the law separates out professionals into their own units, encouraging conflict between professionals and other folks in a company, often encouraging the professionals to identify more with management than other workers.

          The public sector does have separate rules and the success of organizing professionals there does reflect that there is nothing inherent in professionals that doesn't allow unionization.

          •  SEIU and AFSCME sort of handle public sector (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            farleftcoast, kraant

            professionals

            Like at City, County and State workers

            Googling Monkeys-R-US -2.75,-3.54 http://www.politicalcompass.org/

            by Dour on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 12:03:36 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  At the school where my husband teaches (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            kraant

            (and I assume this is fairly common) the instructional supervisor for a department is also a teacher and a union member, even though s/he supervises other teachers.  I'm a little confused as to how this is allowed, although it seems to me that it makes sense that you don't necessarily have to be either labor or management -- it certainly makes sense to allow people to wear both hats.

            But if anyone wants to explain it to me, I'd be appreciative.

            •  Depends on state law (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              ppluto, kraant

              Public school teachers are covered by state laws, which have different rules on whether supervisors and managers can be unionized.

              Ultimately, most supervisors aren't making the big decisions about funding and direction of the schools, so it's appropriate for lower-level supervisors to be protected-- even if regular labor law doesn't extend that to private sector employees.

          •  Further correction re: supervisors (0+ / 0-)

            It is not unlawful for supervisors to be in a union.  Rather, an employer under Taft-Hartley can lawfully refuse to bargain over the terms and conditions of supervisors, and can thus cause them to be effectively excluded from the benefits of union representation. (In the process of gaining representational rights, employers and unions often argue about who is truly a "supervisor" and thus entitled or not entitled to gain representational rights under T-H)   That may sound like semantics, but it is not, because there are some unions, like the Marine Engineers, like some in the entertainment field, where there are quite a number of supervisors and no one questions or repudiates it; the employers do not challenge it.  Moreover, in the public sector (at least in California), supervisors can form their own unions. (To be sure there are a number of states where public sector employees are still forbidden to organize at all).

        •  Composers (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          StuartZ, kraant

          Composers of music for film are affected by this.  The film producers want a delivered soundtrack, which means the composer has to pay the musicians and technicians to record it.  This makes the composer a 'manager'.

          By not being in a union, unlike everybody else involved in film production, the composers are treated badly financially.  (not John Williams maybe, but people less famous)  Some producers think there is nothing wrong with paying nothing at all, just "you'll get your name in the credits and you'll get performance royalties".   That's back end money, which doesn't pay your expenses up front.  IF you get any back end at all; in the USA theaters do not pay any performance royalties and ASCAP/BMI don't pay out squat for instrumental underscore on TV.

          As I said, this doesn't apply to people like Williams, Zimmer, Horner, etc, who can command big up-front $$.

    •  Quickly, from a libertarian... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kraant

      I generally have no problem with unions, as long as they don't coerce people to join, and do no property damage or physical harm to scabs or the employer.

      "Power-lust is a weed that grows only in the vacant lot of an empty mind." -- Ayn Rand

      by dov12348 on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 09:20:54 AM PDT

      •  Coersion... (11+ / 0-)
        Is a tricky business.

        I'm a die-hard trade unionist.  I would have no problem with open shop EXCEPT for the fact that under U.S. labor law, the union needs to represent every worker in the unit regardless of if they're a member or not.  This means you need to spend time and money processing their greviences, but also more generally they fall under the terms of the contract even though they don't support the union with money.  

        It's like someone being able to get away with not paying taxes but still having a legal right to public services.  The effect is anywhere there is an open shop, there are tons of free-riders, and the local is often impovrished as a result.  

        In the old days, pre NRLA, unions could engage in members-only bargaining, but barring that becoming a possibility today, or fair-share rules being passed on the federal level (allowing unions to charge non-union members for services rendered) the open shop is nothing but a tool to weaken unions.  

      •  I agree but the comments below are also true (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kraant

        but I do think if the current batch votes to Unionize and one person comes in, how can you then say oh wait, this one guy doesnt want to pay his dues, lets close down the union?

        Googling Monkeys-R-US -2.75,-3.54 http://www.politicalcompass.org/

        by Dour on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 12:00:41 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  No, you get rid of the laws that... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Mike Erwin, kraant

          ...control the unions.   That way, it's simply: no dues; ok, but then no union-gained benefits.  

          "Power-lust is a weed that grows only in the vacant lot of an empty mind." -- Ayn Rand

          by dov12348 on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 12:06:17 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  And then... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            kraant

            the management gets you to sign an agreement before you are hired expressing your desire to never join the union backed up by the threat of termination if you do.  The movement is about solidarity.  Remember those great old patriotic saying we were all taught in history class like, "United we stand.  Divided we fall."?  You know the bumper stickers that appeared on cars after 9/11?  That is the great message we give, but you aren't supposed to mean it when it comes to unionizing.  The movement is about SOLIDARITY.  We all stand or fall as one.

            •  If management wants you... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              kraant

              ...to sign an agreement before you start, they should be free to do this and you should be free to walk away or to sign it.

              As a libertarian I'm for any of this as long as the government stays out of it and no one tries to harm, coerce or defraud anyone.

              Solidarity can be wonderful.  And I think the deepest felt and most lasting type of solidarity is one that's voluntary in every possible respect.

              "Power-lust is a weed that grows only in the vacant lot of an empty mind." -- Ayn Rand

              by dov12348 on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 01:15:48 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  And then... (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Prison4Bushco, kraant, gpdx

                the union is meaningless, and management goes back to 16 hour work days for 5 year old kids in sweatshops for pennies a day.  But at least everybody had a choice and big bad government kept to itself.

                •  There should be laws against the... (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  StuartZ, kraant

                  ...type of child labor you speak of.  Even though a libertarian, I am in favor of laws that would protect children as well as other laws that would satisfy our individual rights to life, liberty and property.

                  Re the union:  Allowing the mgt-union structure freedom in these ways would have to be accompanied by the abolition of other laws that as they are, make finding other jobs more difficult.  Any laws that increase the cost of labor decrease the incentive to higher new labor.  So if you don't like something about the job, it would be somewhat easier to find another job.  Yes, many times this is impossible.  So then in advance you see what's in demand and try to learn these trades as you have the time.

                  Unions will never be meaningless as long as people have the right to form them, to contract with the employer, do collective bargaining, to strike and so forth.  As employers see that many who insist on forming unions could quit if turned down, and to the extent these are people with skills and knowledge that are desirable to mgt, then mgt will be more inclined to allow the formation of unions.

                  The people who indeed might be in tougher shape would be the truly unskilled.   These people would need to learn things -- even on their own -- that would make them more valuable to their employers.

                  But these suggestions are admittedly drastic and as such should not be done overnight.  I would very gradually phase these things in, with frequent monitoring and audits -- say, over a period of decades, so that innocents who now count on the system are not cast out.

                  "Power-lust is a weed that grows only in the vacant lot of an empty mind." -- Ayn Rand

                  by dov12348 on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 02:03:02 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

    •  I was part of trying to unionize a bookstore (8+ / 0-)

      I know that a lot of folk have some strange mythology around the local bookstore, and I do believe in them, but they still need to pay the employees well.  We were in a situation where no one had seen a raise for three years but the owner was still taking two month long vacations on other continents.  We were hurting while he was off drinking umbrella drinks.

      We ultimately failed because the management put on this show of solidarity with the workers.  They also managed to convince enough folks that we could just talk about things.  I think much of management was willing to listen, but they had the safety of knowing that the owner wouldn't give anything that cost much money.

      Long story short, I just learned that they are now on year 4 without raises.  

      Unions help level the playing field.  One of us is expendable.  ALL of us are not.

      "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism." Thomas Jefferson

      by Ambrosius on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 09:23:20 AM PDT

    •  Another ignorant question... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ppluto, kraant

      how does seniority really work in most shops?  I'd always gotten the impression that it was just based on age or time with the company, which I have kind of believed to be silly.  Yes, there is serving of time and all, but are there versions of seniority (or even how the real deal works, again please correct if I am wrong) that has more to do with the relative esteem of one's peers?

      I'm also curious as to the flexibility of merit pay and the like.

      I really agree that massive orgs negotiating with each person one-on-one is going to give a huge disadvantage to the individual.  That's the whole reason for solidarity - just like 'buying power,' only for wages, not cost concessions.

      On the other hand, acheivement has got to be a part of the equation.  That peers rating I was thinking of is like the Fellowship structure in pro associations - stature goes to those who do well and play by the rules (ideally).

      Thanks in advance for replies.

      •  Some Answers (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        badger, kraant, NearlyNormal, OdinsEye2k

        Contracts vary re seniority, Merit Pay etc.  Your negotiating committee needs to priorotize your concerns & bargain w/ management.

        Seniority -  Do you mean for layoff or are you talking about job assignments.
        Ususally based on time in classification.  However in my union there are exeptions made for special skills, as we have many different types of Geeks in the same classification.  

        Biggest  benefit is a place at the table when decissions are made.  A union gives you a place to suggest things that will increase productivity and a place to talk about why the latest hair brained scheme might have some consequences mgmt did'nt think of.

        Many people assume unions protect slackers - they don't, they do force mgmt to follow the same standard procedures for everyone.  These procedures are in the contract, thus bargained over.  This means that the mgmt that negotiated the language thought it was fair.

        •  Yeah, by seniority (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          kraant

          I pretty much mean all of the above.  Basically, I'm saying years count for something, but I've seen several cases (I'm thinking local schools here) where you have to drop the promising young guy over the old guy that never does anything quite wrong enough to fire (other than just being very poor at his job) when you do RIF's.

      •  Merit pay is... (5+ / 0-)
        against everything the labor movement stands for.

        The first reason is that there have been no reasonable benchmarks that have been made for defining merit-based pay that don't end up being "the boss gives who he wants a raise, when he wants to."  Everyone's going to disagree if there isn't a concrete, contractual practice if the right or the wrong person got a raise.  

        Of course, it does exist in some shops.  But those are generally places where the union is weak.  Because the second problem with merit pay is that it divides a shop.  For a strong union you need just about everyone working together as a team, not some people having resentment the next guy over got a bigger raise and thus not wanting to pitch in next contract session.  

        •  Divide and conquer (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          farleftcoast, kraant

          You are exactly right, and that is the goal of merit pay.  When we cease to function as one and start to function as a whole buch of ones they win.  It pits member against member- the ultimate no-no of a bargaining unit.  

        •  I'm not so sure.. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          StuartZ, kraant

          There has to be some way to have incentives for doing better (faster, stronger) work than your peers.  Especially when your peers recognize it.  Maybe even if it's just a way to march faster up the step system, I dunno.

          That's kind of why I was asking about things along the lines of the professional societies that recognize contributions to the field above and beyond what the average 9 to 5 engineer does.

          It may be a tricky problem, but I would think that having equal pay for everyone when work done is not necessarily equal could be equally divise as having the group recognize that, yes, Mr. Jones is a guru and he does share his insights on how to make the job better.

        •  If I had to choose (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          kraant

          between (1) getting more money than my co-worker because I'm better at the job but us both being out on the street because our jobs went oversees, and (2) getting paid the same and actually having the job, I'll take #2.

        •  Nope. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          kraant

          I've been in 2 unions where a bonus system was in the contract. The bonuses were based on individual preformance.

          Merit pay does have a place in contract negotiations but it won't be found everywhere and is dependent on the kind of work.

          "How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake?" -John Kerry, 1971 but what we needed to hear in 2003/2004

          by Demise on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 09:49:33 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Seniority (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kraant

        What seniority affects varies a lot by industry and by union contract. I don't have a good overall summary, but I can give you some examples.

        When I taught (vo-tech), the contract pay scale had something like 20 steps - each step corresponding to one year of teaching under the contract. The school was free to hire in anyone at any step (I think I started at step 14), but after that, your pay increased one step each year until you hit the top. There were seperate scales for BS/non-degree and MS (MS being slightly higher for the same step. Seniority had nothing to do (in contract terms, anyway) with course assignments, work load, or pretty much anything else. The only other thing I can think of that it affected was that after two years, I could only be fired for cause (similar to a probation/tenure system).

        For all three of the manufacturing firms I worked for (two IAM, one IBEW) as a mfg engineer, seniority also affected your place on the pay scale. In addition, if layoffs occurred, the least senior people in a job classification were layed off first. There were also complicated rules aboout bumping (for example, a more senior Machinist I could keep his job by dropping to the Machinist II grade and bumping the less senior person on the lower grade).

        For the most part, though, seniority didn't have a lot of effect on work assignment, as most jobs require specific skills or experience (for example, punch press operators don't automatically get promoted to machinists via seniority, or electronic assemblers to electronic technician). However, some skills have multiple grades and seniority might be a factor in promotion within a skill.

        For workers who possessed the necessary skills for a job or for entry-level grades in a skill, seniority was a major factor in allowing workers to "bid" for better jobs or classifications, so you could transfer from, say, punch press operator to the plating room or paint line, which might have paid better and didn't have formal skill requirements (usually on-the-job training), or from Assembler III to Assembler II.

        Beyond that, seniority might get you the ability to choose a particular station on an assembly line. I don't recall that the contracts I worked with allowed people to choose what product/parts they worked on, which can be important in an incentive pay situation, as some products/parts are easier to make more money on.

        In some industries (automotive, I believe), seniority might also work in reverse in layoffs. If the layoff was to be of short duration or there was some pay subsidy for laid-off workers (comp pay), the most senior might get to choose to be laid off first as sort of a paid vacation.

        Seniority has good, but not perfect, correlation with skill in most jobs. Other systems are equally imperfect as they rely on subjective criteria or are prone to things like favoritism or sexual harrassment.

        "Merit pay" means to me something like what's often advocated for teachers - a bonus based on assessment or student test scores or meeting some other (often subjective) goal. If, on the other hand, you meant something like "incentive pay" or "piece-work", that again is an area with a lot of variation, from sweat-shop type pay in the garment industry, to things like "Scanlon Plans" and profit-sharing (department- or company-wide), to individual performance against a pre-established production rate. Companies like them because they think they relate pay to output or productivity. Workers like them (more or less), because virtually every incentive pay system is easily scammed.

        Two things I learned as a manufacturing engineer: 1) even the most "unskilled" jobs involve a lot of skill and experience is valuable; 2) workers tend to care more about the quality of the product they produce than managers, esp at the VP level. To offshore profitably, the gap in wages has to be huge to make up for the increased skill, productivity and higher quality work of American workers.

        People want to be part of governance, but what they want from government is respect for their ways of living. - Jack Balkin

        by badger on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 12:03:11 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Merit Pay per teachers (5+ / 0-)

        This is a hugely controversial issue nationwide.  Teachers are taking a lot of crap for it.  On our end we just cannot see where the application will be truly based on merit, and there are huge metric problems.  The states and districts where this has become the norm usually base the merit pay, at least in some small part, on the results of standardized tests.  Think about this.  I teach about 8th graders US History.  They take a standardized test in May.  We get those results back with a breakdown based on race, gender, etc. as per No Child Left Behind.  In most teacher merit pay plans, my salary would increase based on improvement on those test scores.  Whose test scores?  The 130 kids I taught in 2006 who are now Freshmen taking another standardized test over a completely different curriculum?  Or maybe a whole new set of 130 8th graders in a new class with a wholke different make-up?  Do you see how that is not fair?  

        The other aspect oft he equation is administrator evaluations.  OK.  Who gets the best reviews?  You guessed it.  The best ass kissers in the school.  If you piss off an administrator, it is no longer just a write up on your record, it is food off your table.

        Some have suggested having members evaluate each other.  Bullshit!  Number one, it pits member against member.  Number two, it sets up a system where the teachers give each other a great review regardless of how shitty the teacher did because they fear a bad review in return if they give one.  It's lose-lose.  

        I know there are shitty teachers out there.  The great myth is that teachers with tenure can't be fired.  That depends on the contract negotiated with the school district, but that is usually not the case.  What it takes to fire a tenured teacher is a documented record of miscues outlined in the bargaining agreement.  If the administrators are willing to do the work, any teacher who is bad can be terminated, just like in a ny union.  Plain and simple- if adminisrators follow the contract, they can do it without a stupid system of merit pay.

        •  I used to think it was obvious (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          kraant

          which teachers were the good teachers and which were not.  I no longer think that.  Administrators, students, parents, other teachers, and test scores are all going to give you a different result...

    •  Outstanding Diary... (8+ / 0-)

      ...and don't stop posting more like it, either

      "And it's why I'll be a union person til the day I die."

      I'm a nurse in a large hospital that has been represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association since 1974. That fact has made every difference to me.

      An organized workforce is democracy in action.

      Thanks

      "...psychopaths have little difficulty infiltrating the domains of...politics, law enforcement, (and) government." Dr. Robert Hare

      by RubDMC on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 09:30:30 AM PDT

    •  A little more data (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Prison4Bushco, kraant

      I've put together a few more charts which show the correlation between the degree of unionization and the wage and income level of the workers.

      For those interested in seeing the effect of the decline in union power on the standard of living of US workers here is the link:

      Does Unionization Matter?

      One thing that needs to be discussed more is the degree to which many people still associate unions with corruption. There are many union members who have gripes with their leadership and feel that they can't effect change because of non-democratic policies. Some of this is probably true and what the movement is doing to clean house should be part of any discussion that hopes to overcome the negative public opinion.

      Unions themselves are to blame for not getting their message out better. Where are TV ads from unions explaining how their members benefit. How about getting a pro-union message into many of the blue collar sitcoms. The religious right set up a group to promote a better image of religious life on TV by getting characters into programs who pray or go to church. Considering that almost everyone in the entertainment industry is unionized they should be willing to do something to promote the cause.

    •  Here's something I wrote on the subject... (9+ / 0-)

      I posted it on a technical off-topic forum, so the references to technology are there because of the audience.
      ==============================

      Whenever you get a situation where a few people have bread they are looking to distribute, and many people are hungry, people are willing to fight for scraps.  And the person dispensing the bread can give out smaller and smaller scraps of bread, and the people who are hungry will still fight for them.  When the dust settles, the people who get the bread will be happy and the people who do not will not be.  The fact of the matter is that the scrap of bread will not fill the belly of the person who gets the scrap much better than the person who does not.  Things will be better for the scrapful than the scrapless, but, when you come right down to it, to the guy who has the loaf, one person willing to fight for a scrap is just as good as the next, and if they settle for a smaller scrap, it's better for him as he gets to keep more bread.  And, really, the fate of the rabble fighting for the bread is not his concern: there are always more people willing to fight for scraps.  This is the model of American Capitalism.

      At the beginning of the last century, the American worker got wise to this, and formed Unions.  With a Union, the workers could bind together and say that they want a larger piece of bread.  For awhile, they were getting a lot of friction from the people with no bread saying that any bread is better than no bread and that if they didn't want the bread, the breadless would take it, that the people with the small scraps of bread were just greedy.  It took many years and many lives to teach people that the only way to get more bread was to get it from the guys with the loaves rather than the guys with the ittybitty scraps.  And, until the 1980s, American wages rose.  Working conditions improved.  The work week got shorter.  Not just for Union people, for everyone.  As the Unions declined in strength, American wages stagnated.  The work week got longer.  As the Unions started dying, fewer and fewer people were doing more and more work, time off started decreasing, and real wages started to plummet.  Again, not just for the Union people.  For people like you and me.  Even as there is more computer work than you can shake a stick at, consulting wages have decreased 40%, and salaried work has dropped 20%.  And you're not going to be home at 5 and take summers off to vacation with your family.  Those days are gone.

      And why?

      Because American industry has found more hungry people.  More people willing to fight for a scrap of bread.  It's not that the American worker is getting paid too much.  It is that the Chinese worker is getting paid too little.  And, when the Chinese workers finally realize that part of being communist is that the worker is supposed to get a larger percentage of the profits generated by his labor, American industry will go elsewhere to find more hungry people, and Chinese wages will go down too.

      But, realize that by the time that the Chinese wages go down, our nice high western wages will have plummeted.  This is global wage arbitrage and will eventually stabilize when we're all starving together, and the people with the loaves of bread have bigger loaves than they've ever had before and the rest of us are living in a Dickensian nightmare complete with pollutions, dispair and disease.

      And the only way THE ONLY WAY to stop this is by forming international Unions that equalize wages across industries so that it is not cheaper to produce a product in this country than in that.  Wages in America and England and Israel will drop, but not as quickly nor as drastically as if the international unions do not exist, and the wages in Ethopia and Sudan and China and India will skyrocket overnight, generating more desire to buy the expensive products that we Americans have been enjoying for 50 years or better (refrigerators, washing machines, cars), which, in turn, generates more profits, and spawns global hiring and a global increase in living, and, of course, globally, lower unemployment and higher wages.  Almost overnight.

      But it's not going to happen.  Unions, after all, are bad, and evil and corrupt.  Just ask the bad, evil, corrupt people who keep saying it.  Strangely, those are the very people who want us fighting amongst ourselves for scraps of bread.  

      And again, what the monied idiots don't realize is that they are breeding the beast that will eat them too.  They do this a lot.  In this case, the American consumer has given these greedy jerks the biggest loaves of bread the world has ever seen, and, in the search of even bigger loaves, the guys with the bread go to China or India to get cheaper labor.  What they don't realize is, without paychecks, the American consumers will not keep buying their product, and, eventually, even the richest people will suffer.  What they also don't realize is that, when the American worker is fat and happy, he's willing to pay a little more for his "stuff" and they could get a bigger loaf not by producing it more cheaply but by selling it more dearly.  And they don't see that the better they treat their worker, the more they pay him, the better off, they too will be.  The rich get richer when the poor have money to give them.  And, once again, we're all in it together.

      -9.50;-6.62. But it don't mean nuttin if you don't put your money where your mouth is

      by ultrageek on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 09:41:06 AM PDT

    •  'Failed' message continues on Mozilla and IE (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kraant
    •  Unless you are going to start unions in China (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kraant

      or India I don't see them coming back too quickly in the US.  This is a global community now, like it or not, and the poorest individuals aren't here but over there.  

      You form a union here that costs the employer twice as much in benefits and they move four times the employees off-shore.  What did you gain?  

      I'm not against unions, just in today's climate they are toxic until we think globally instead of nationally.

      •  er... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Inky, kraant, NearlyNormal

        "Workers of the World Unite," you mean?

        9 counties, 70 towns, 200 miles, and one monstrous and unnecessary project. Stop NYRI.

        by NYCO on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 10:26:25 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Global Community and Unions (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Inky, Compostings

        You do know that unions in "developed" countries help fund and back unions in "developing" countries don't you? :P

        Break the unions in the "developed" countries and that support for the unions in the "developing" nations dies...

        Don't be a fuckhead! HTH k thnx. ps. THERE IS NO SEKRIT TROLL-HUNTING CABAL! (Feed trolls not.)

        by kraant on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 10:33:54 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Farmers do it (0+ / 0-)

        USA has lots of import tariffs on agricultural products to level the field with oversees producers.  Why not the same for the products of intellectual labor?

      •  There are unions in China and India (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kraant

        There are unions in China and India.  We ought to be supporting them.  

        One of the things that capitalism spreads when it takes root in other countries is resistance to capitalism in one form or the other - whether that takes the form of peasant revolts, organizations like unions, or reform movements like the Progressives in the early 20th century US.  

        China and India - as well as Korea - are all going through sort of what the US went through in the late 19th century in terms of industrialization and that was when our labor movement (well parts of it) was at its most militant.  The China Labor Bulletin is one news source I know of about the labor movement in China.  (I can't recall the web address at the moment ... sorry).  The US labor movement could and should be reaching out to these unions in the rest of the world as allies in the fight against the same multi-naitonal corporations all workers are struggling with today.  

        There's a really good book on the topic by Beverly Silver called Forces of Labor and it is the best book on globalization I've read.  She created a database of world labor unrest and traced the incidence of strikes in several industries over the course of about 100 years and one of the most striking things she observed was that shortly after textiles, or auto or electronics manufacturing entered a country, a strike wave very soon followed that was part of a militant, democratic grassroots labor movement.  This book along with Dana Frank's Buy American and Jeff Cowie's Capital Moves helped me get my head around what capital flight was really about and what labor's response might be.

      •  It's happening (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kraant

        Of course not in China (which already has 'state sanctioned' unions /chuckle) but in Europe and South America there is a serious dialogue on how unions can use strikes to pressure global companies.

        It's happening.

        In the case of SEIU, there is reach in GB and France right now. Also, UNITE HERE is active in Germany picketing companies that are anti-union in the USA.

        "How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake?" -John Kerry, 1971 but what we needed to hear in 2003/2004

        by Demise on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 10:00:02 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  But wait,there are Independent Unions in China.. (0+ / 0-)

          ... and we should support them.

          Check out www.china-labour.org.hk/public/main - this is a Hong Kong based website that tries to get out the news from the autonomous unions in China - the first of which emerged in the aftermath of Tianenmen - the Beijing Workers Autonomous Federation.  The BWAF was crushed by the end of the year, but by the mid-90s, others emerged to take its place.  These are the forces of democracy in China - much more so than the spread of capitalism.

    •  Nathan, thank you SO much for this!! (7+ / 0-)

      This is SO helpful you have no idea!!

    •  math? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kraant
      Fully half of all nonunion U.S. workers say they would vote yes if a union election were held at their company today, up from about 40% throughout the 1990s, according to polls by Peter D. Hart Research Associates Inc. Yet unions lose about half of the elections they call.

      er, is it just me or does that make perfect sense mathematically and not actually indicate any kind of funny-business on the part of employers? If only half favor it then they're gonna win half the time, statistically.

      conscientious objector in the battle of the sexes.

      by plymouth on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 09:53:50 AM PDT

      •  funny business by employers (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kraant

        Here's an example that I happened to write a diary about a few months ago.

        "For war, billions more, but no more for the poor" Reverend Joseph Lowery 02/07/06

        by Prison4Bushco on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 11:44:14 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I'm not saying funny-business never happens. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          kraant

          I'm just saying the math used in that quote doesn't support it. It's like saying "There's a 50% chance that this year will have a colder than average winter." Oh really? Well, yeah - that's the definition of average. There's a 50% chance of a colder than average winter EVERY year.

          conscientious objector in the battle of the sexes.

          by plymouth on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 12:59:34 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  What you're missing (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            kraant

            Is that unions don't call elections willy-nilly.  They only call them when they think they have a very good chance, when there's been a long organizing drive, and when things should be MUCH BETTER than the average set of nonunion workers.  Yet the result is no more than the average.

    •  Libertarian Democrat perspective... (7+ / 0-)

      This is from the perspective of what I'd used to call oldschool conservative but Markos has me persuaded I'm more of a libertarian Dem.  (And it's not what you're expecting!)

      A free and fair market requires that all parties to a truly voluntary transaction have reasonably comparable capabilities to negotiate terms and enforce contracts.  

      Corporations have human resources departments and attorneys who are specialists in labor relations and contract negotiations.  If an average worker were to show up for a job interview with their own lawyer or negotiating specialist, they would quickly be turned down for the job.  All other factors being equal, the employer would prefer an applicant who did not have a  lawyer or negotiator representing them.  

      Yet, in no other instance do we consider it even remotely rational to negotiate an important contract or execute any other legal agreement of similar significance without proper legal advice.  People do not routinely write their own wills, for example, or their own contracts for buying and selling houses, much less representing themselves in court on civil or criminal matters.  Clearly if a will or a house purchase is important enough to call for the specialist expertise of an attorney, taking a job is certainly important enough to call for that expertise.  

      So clearly, as a society, we don't want people running around playing do-it-yourself-lawyer, but somehow we have carved out this odd exception for job interviews and employment contracts.  That is a gross and grotesque inconsistency.  

      However, the employee who is represented by a union has the benefit of the union's attorneys and negotiators, so now they are standing on equal ground or at least comparable ground.  The employer is bound by contract terms and/or by law to deal with them.  And the union has the capability to enforce its position by withholding its members' labor: a comparable bargaining chip, which creates the level playing field that is essential to considering any transaction to be truly voluntary.  

      (By the way, the old come-back of "you can always look elsewhere" is obsolete: there is no "elsewhere," the frontiers have long since closed.)

      Also in an era where employees are at significant risk, i.e. of their pensions disappearing, this risk can be considered comparable to the risk of an investor who "bets the farm" on a company.  In fact the employee's risk is often larger, because a retiree whose pension disappears is often literally thrown out on the street, which is to say, at risk of death up close & personal.  This set of conditions also calls for employees to have legally enforceable rights similar to those of investors, and to have lawyers to back them up.  Logically that kind of legal support also, is only realistic in a union environment.

      Unions also benefit employers in two (related ways):

      One, employers gain by knowing that their employees are properly qualified.  Two, employers are relieved of the issue of employees who are good negotiators but poor performers.  

      The empirical fact is that negotiating skill has zero correlation with other qualifications in a large number of job categories; certainly this is the case in technical work (speaking from experience in the geek industries for 20+ years; most geeks have a tough time asking someone out for a date, much less asking their employer for a raise!) but it is also the case in many other fields.  

      So you can have someone who's a star performer, high skill, and yet shy as a typical geek, who never gets what they're worth, while in the next cubicle you have someone who's a "charmer" and very slick at getting what they want even though they do not have the skills for the job.  The visible disparity between the two can be a morale-killer among the workforce in general, and cause overall productivity to suffer.  Unions tend to solve this issue by holding everyone up to standards of qualification and experience: so employees have a much higher probability of getting paid fairly for their capabilities.  

      One possible exception...

      Is that very small companies, for example a small housebuilding and remodeling contractor, often don't have the administrative capability or the volume of work needed to do business in a union environment.  This is an interesting issue and I don't have a good solution for it, except to say that such companies obviously don't have their own lawyers either, so a hiring discussion between e.g. a skilled carpenter and a small contractor, is much more like a negotiation between equals to begin with.  But in any case it would be interesting to see how this question could be addressed.  

      None of the foregoing...

      ... in any way implies that the values of the dignity of labor and respect for individuals are any less important, but these points have already been covered in depth.  One can also say that respect for individuals is a libertarian value, and that consistency demands it be applied equally across the board, as in "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all (persons) are created equal..."

      Tech note:  

      I can't get the comments to expand either, so I posted "blind" just to get this up before I scoot off to work.  It will be interesting to read the rest of the comments as soon as I can....

      •  Very excellent points (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        StuartZ, kraant, NearlyNormal

        I especially like the idea of the skills you get rewarded for (arbitration, negotiation and assertiveness) are not necessarily the same skills that are actually benefiting the company (being a monster on the latest finite element software).

        Also, like I had said earlier, there is not much libertarian in the idea of one person against a huge system ... oddly enough, I always thought that was the reason for being anti-State.

    •  I have written before in other diaries... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Inky, kraant, NearlyNormal

      Nathan really needs to be a front page poster on labor issues...

    •  comments failing, please help (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kraant
    •  Excellent diary, but... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kraant

      I and most other ppl understand that the unions were responsible for many, if not most, working conditions that today's workers take for granted.  The reason today's worker can reasonable expect a 40 hour workweek is because union members fought and died for it a hundred years earlier.

      The reason why unions are all but dead today is globalization.  As long as there are rock-bottom-poor people in places like Africa, India, and China who will happily work for just enough food to be able to hold a pickaxe or a hammer the next day, unions are never going to take off in developed world.

      •  There are good reasons to support (0+ / 0-)

        development in dead poor places, however protectionist policies should be in place to ensure that corporations don't batten on the poor in just the way you mention.  Also, and less popularly, serious population measures need to be demanded of the poorer countries to stem the flood of poor people waiting to be exploited.

        The prime responsibility of the Ameriocan Government should be to the American people, and unions do a good job of reminding both corporations and governments of the legitimate needs of their members.

        "I said, 'wait a minute, Chester, you know I'm a peaceful man.'" Robbie Robertson -8.13, -4.56

        by NearlyNormal on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 11:43:31 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Globalization hurts, but (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        peace voter

        unions in this country are worse off than they are in western Europe, where presumably employers there have the same incentive to take their production to countries with cheap labor.  While I'm no expert on why that is, I know that the labor laws in the U.S. are perversely anti-union in operation, and the culture and atmosphere in western Europe is far more hospitable to unions than it is here.  The belief in the dignity and importance of work and workers, and striving for the collective good, is far more prevalent and respected there than it is here, where everything purports to be about individual striving (even as the government gives out massive corporate welfare to e.g., media companies, and natural resource exploitation companies).

    •  Somebody has to fix this comment expansion prob. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kraant, NearlyNormal

      This issue is huge to the progressive movement, and it's about damn time people ar etalking about it.  This is a great diary, and I believe it would be full of comments, but like one poster above, I can't read any of the comments.  I get a failed message every time I try to expand them.  It's frustrating as hell, and it's been happening pretty frequently lately.  In addition, there has been an issue with multiple posts of the same message becaue of failed messages when tryingn to post.

      ANyway, back to the whole unions=progressive thing.  The labor constituency is vital to our cause.  They have been progressive since their inception.  Unfortunately, they seem to have been taken for granted lately, much like the African American vote.  In both groups, support for our candidates has been slipping.  We truly are the big tent movement, and we cannot afford to ignore or take for granted ANY group of progressive voters.  Labor is important to everyone, and it is not just a blue collar issue.  It is a human rights issue.  Those of you who are organized understand that.  Those of you who are not, should consider getting a local.  This issue is a true cornerstone of the progressive movement.  Unfortunately, the Right wing noise machine has demonized the labor movement so much lately that many good progressives have forgotten that.

    •  This is one of those diaries (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      grayscale, kraant, NearlyNormal

      that I have to print out and share with those less inclined to spend as much time in front of the monitor as I do.

      Thanks and looking forward to the series... :)

    •  Thanks for this diary! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kraant

      I'm wondering what today's American History texts are teaching today's school children about Organized Labor.  It might be worth looking into.  

      I have vague memories of what was taught which I was in school (Indiana in the mid-late 1970's) and a lot of it was subtly negative.  

      We spent an inordinate amount of time on the story of Eugene Debs and the birth of the Socialist party of America. And of course the newspapers were full of stuff about Jimmy Hoffa, organized crime and the labor unions.

      The effect of it all was to plant lots of doubts about unions in the mind of anyone who was only half paying attention, which was most of the class.  

      •  Unions (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        HistoryTeacher, kraant, NearlyNormal, gpdx

        The mode of knowledge transmission about unions is still person to person.  You learn it from Grandpa or grandma, mom or dad, or maybe from a college professor or from workers you interact with.  It's never been taught in the schools (and is even less likely now).

        9 counties, 70 towns, 200 miles, and one monstrous and unnecessary project. Stop NYRI.

        by NYCO on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 10:58:33 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Amen! (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          kraant, gpdx

          Some reasons why?  Well, it's the textbooks stupid!  There ar ecouple of good books out there that relate to this.  One is Lies My Teacher Told Me.  The other one, honestly, I can't rememebr the title.  They attack the textbook authors and textbook adoption agencies.  On of the biggest textbook markets is Texas- anti-union.  They want unions to not be taught in school.  California is anothe big market.  they do want unions taught in school.  Long story short, compromises are made and unions get left out or brushed over.  That same level of compromise is amde by teachers everyday int he classroom.  We generally lik ewhat we do and want to continue to do it.  With generally anti-union administrators we know we will get no backing from  the central office if Johnny's dad the wingnut gets pissed and wants my head on a platter.  

          What's the choice?  teach watered down bullshit history and keep our job, or push the envelope and put our 8+ years of post-secondary education to use doing something else.  Sad but true reality of trying to teach history in public schools today.  The fun part is finding ways to sneak it in so we don't get sent to the principal's office!)

      •  Not much labor taught...... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kraant

        .....in eighth grade American History classes here in NY state. There is usually a chapter on the labor movement in history text books but I know for a fact that the state has not asked questions about labor on the State assessments in the past five years. What do you think teachers are likely to skip over when they are given a huge curriculum to teach and then are held accountable for the test results? Will they spend two weeks talking about the importance of the labor movement when it is not going to be tested? Teachers have the results of their students grades published in the local paper.

        Infidels in all ages have battled for the rights of man, and have at all times been the advocates of truth and justice... Robert Ingersol

        by BMarshall on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 03:24:42 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Worth (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kraant, Wage Warrior II

      printing out and keeping for reference. Thanks for this.

    •  Education (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BMarshall, skywriter, kraant, NearlyNormal

      One of the lists I read is run by labor historians. They had a lively discussion recently about job opportunities for labor historians at US universities. The concensus was that there are very few job postings for such a specialty (as opposed to say, women's or minority history).

      One of the possible reasons for this is the general anti-union attitude of college administration, but another is the general disinterest in teaching labor history.

      Think back to your schooling (starting, perhaps in junior high) how much did you learn about labor history? Did you learn about the Homestead strike, the Lawrence Mass "Bread and Roses" strike, the Triangle Shirtwaist fire or the Bisbee deportation?

      It seems there is a national educational policy to keep the young from learning about the sacrifices that were made by the workers in the past to get them the rights they currently enjoy.

      •  Will you link to labor historian list? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kraant

        thanks, Robert.

        Here's a book that aptly describes some of the key labor struggles in the US:

        American Labor Struggles by Samuel Yellen

        Zinn's A People's History of the United States also does a terrific job in describing the rarely told struggles of labor.

        Stop Democrats from enabling the conservative Republican LOST CAUSE.

        by skywriter on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 11:57:46 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Anti-unionism in suburbia (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kraant

      Everyone in my suburban enclave is anti-union. Why? Well, a lot of it is based on myths, but our own experience with unionism is not so good:

      1. My sister, as a public school teacher, is required to be a member of the teacher's union. So far, she is not impressed. Mostly what the teacher's union seems to stand for is ensuring that every teacher gets to keep his/her job regardless of competance. That's not good for students or the profession. I'm sure there's a more complicated story here and I don't mean to get into the pros and cons of teachers unions. Just pointing out that for middle class people who are more familiar with teacher's unions than labor unions, "union" sounds like code for "unhelpful bureacratic rules."
      1. My other sister is in Actors Equity. She and her actor friends go through all sorts of shennanigans to avoid the restrictions that union membership places on them. Sure, you get higher pay in a union show. You also are prohibited from taking easier-to-get roles in non-union shows. That's a serious hassle for actors who are constantly searching for the next gig. A fair number of them go under pseudonyms so they can evade union reprisals and still keep food on the table. More bureacracy. Ugh.

      Now that I think about it, probably most people in my corner of suburbia think of unions much the way they think of government bureacracies: noble intentions tied to unsumountable piles of redtape.

      •  Two other things... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        metal prophet, Valtin, kraant

        Labor leadership nationwide seems more interested in organizing public workers than those working for corporations with the result that public workers often have better medical insurance and retirement benefits than workers in the private sector. The newer unions (Justice for Janitors) is organizing private sector workers and for that they should be commended. That part of Big Labor that focuses mostly on the public sector will be smashed in the long run because they are setting up a dichotomy between public and private workers, and , in the end, if private workers can not afford to pay public workers better than they themselves are are paid, in terms of benefits, than there will be political consequences.

        Big Labor also has to examine how it has historically split the working class, for many years excluding blacks, for many years excluding immigrants, siding with the extreme right in purging unionism of its most militant fighers and best organizers, the communists. When we analyze how organized labor has declined since the height of its power in the 1950s, these facts can be considered.

        Stop Democrats from enabling the conservative Republican LOST CAUSE.

        by skywriter on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 12:14:16 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  the 'bad teachers' protected by unions meme... (6+ / 0-)

        ..is tired worn out crap. If there were no teachers unions the same bad teachers would still be working at your sister's school because they would be the ass kissers and informants that the administration would use to keep other teachers in line. I have teachers in my building who are not particularly great teachers. They do only what is mandated and no more. I sure am glad I have a union to protect me from their schmoozing and inside gossip games. They would still be here because they are suck ups.

        Infidels in all ages have battled for the rights of man, and have at all times been the advocates of truth and justice... Robert Ingersol

        by BMarshall on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 03:34:38 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Calling All Geeks (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kraant

      I wanted to post this upthread, but I'm getting failed when I try to expand comments. You may have heard of the Mail on Sunday's story about working conditions at Apple's iPod factories in China. Slashdot has a huge comment thread on the story here. I encourage everyone to read and post comments to get our message out and respond to the knee-jerk union bashers. It's a very high traffic site.

    •  National Writers Union is part of UAW and... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kraant

      while UAW supported ($$) NWU for a number of years, that support primarily benefited the then leadership including and especially Jonathan Tasini, the longtime president, who misled the union and is now running against Clinton in NY. (I don't support his candidacy.)

      NWU is a union of freelance writers. It's best aspect is its completely volunteer section on contract and grievance advice, which received little or no funding or support from the national office during the Tasini years. This is the group of members who advise other members, one on one, on book, magazine and newspaper contracts, and how to get paid when media tries to stiff freelancers. This was the primary area of victories for members of the writers union.

      Tasini got the UAW to support a lawsuit that went to the Supreme Court in his name, and the name of a few other members. The writers union's name should have been on that case and it is not.

      Unfortunately, the Grievance and Contract section was always at odds with the Tasini leadership. Tasini left the union during or shortly after a rebellion several years ago but before he left, he essentially arranged a golden parachute for himself in the form of a $$ nice $$ job with UAW. The union treasury was left broke. Members lost libel insurance (that was caused by market conditions) and medical insurance was also greatly reduced, in part due to market conditions. So, while I support unionism, I'd like to see a postmortem on what went wrong with the UAW nurturing of the writers union.

      Mainly what I see is UAW made best friends with the union leadership. They became asshole buddies with the then NWU leadership and ignored what a significant number of members had to say. I don't think UAW should have taken sides in the internal dispures because they just didn't understand that the leadership was NOT working in the members' interest.

      After his tenure as president, Tasini left the union.

      Stop Democrats from enabling the conservative Republican LOST CAUSE.

      by skywriter on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 11:39:13 AM PDT

      •  yep, sounds like UAW to me!! (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kraant

        9 counties, 70 towns, 200 miles, and one monstrous and unnecessary project. Stop NYRI.

        by NYCO on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 12:15:00 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  in UAW's defense... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          kraant

          At Columbia in 1970, the UAW had organized the building and grounds workers into a union. On campus was also 1099 (hospital workers). The students all over the world, including Columbia, were on strike that spring after Nixon ordered the bombing of Cambodia. At Columbia, there were political demands, including to end the war, end Columbia's investments in war profiteering companies + 3 others. Both UAW and 1199 supported the student strike. It was the first time there was a true alliance between workers and students since the 1930s.

          Columbia rebels were more famous for the spring of 1968 but what happened in 1970 was more significant.

          Stop Democrats from enabling the conservative Republican LOST CAUSE.

          by skywriter on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 12:28:43 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Thanks, Nathan, this is Labor 101 n/t (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kraant

      Stop Democrats from enabling the conservative Republican LOST CAUSE.

      by skywriter on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 11:41:27 AM PDT

    •  A different view of unions... from the trenches. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      aristoi78, StuartZ, skywriter, kraant

      A well written diary that I would recommend (if I knew how).... BUT

      my union work experience is a little different than what is portrayed here.  I saw a Ca  carpenters union local rep take money from the owners and screw the union members...common knowledge by us and seen by myself and many others.  Sort of like the sopranos where the thugs come in.

      I saw the CTA (Calif Teachers Assoc) screw there members so bad in a strike call-out that I was poisoned against them for life.

      I will post up my first diary in a week (IT dir for 3 companies with a serious work load) and I can guarantee that it won't read like this diary.  Am I anti union? no!  Am I pro union, maybe 70-30.

      Do I belong to a union now...no.  Would I belong now?  That would be a carefully considered choice from what I have seen in a 45 year  work history...some of it as a business owner, some as a union member.

      There is a hell of lot more to this story than what is protrayed here with all the pretty charts and graphs.

      My favorite movie is Steinbeck's "The grapes of Wrath"...it speaks to my soul.  When unions speak to these needs, they speak for me.  When they speak as as another money-grubbing entrenched interest and screw their members...
      FUCK EM!

      •  I hear ya (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        espresso, aristoi78, kraant

        I grew up in a union household - both sets of grandparents and both parents belonged to unions, at least part of the time.  And my dad was always fighting sell-out union officials who were in bed with management.  And they were constantly having to take on management without their union leaders' help.  Every year, it seemed, my dad and his co-workers would be heading off to some NLRB hearing in Chicago on the train and coming back with their war stories, and it was always just this same group of guys holding their own.  Anyhow, he saw the writing on the wall long ago about the bad state some of these unions would be in now.  Not to blame the victim, but you're right: it isn't all a heroic history.  But don't lay the sins of the leaders on the rank and file.  They're good people with a clear understanding of what's at stake for everyone.

        9 counties, 70 towns, 200 miles, and one monstrous and unnecessary project. Stop NYRI.

        by NYCO on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 12:08:51 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Fair and balanced (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Webster, E Love, kraant

        There are certainly unions that have problems with corruption or mob connections. There are also corporations like Enron, WorldCom, Halliburton and a lot of other similar organizations. There are doctors who commit malpractice and attorneys who are sheisters and auto mechanics who are crooks.

        To observe that people aren't angels and that their institutions like unions or corporations aren't perfect  isn't particularly newsworthy. Corruption and violations of law need to be dealt with wherever they occur, but the existence of one or several bad actors in a particular field isn't sufficient to condemn the entire enterprise.

        People want to be part of governance, but what they want from government is respect for their ways of living. - Jack Balkin

        by badger on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 12:29:35 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  THIS IS GREAT (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kraant

      AFSCME Local  3183 here

      Great stuff.

      Arizona is also a right to work state and what Unions have accomplished in Vegas is always the ultimate example of how to succeed in a right to work state.

      Googling Monkeys-R-US -2.75,-3.54 http://www.politicalcompass.org/

      by Dour on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 11:58:21 AM PDT

    •  Unionization? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      aristoi78, kraant

      "There are thirty guys standing in front of the Home Depot ready to replace you all."

      "Would you like to have a pink slip to go with your green card this Christmas?"

      Unionization will not help those in the landscaper and general laborer markets.

      Most strikes fail, that is why you see very few of them.

      There is such an excess of manpower that it is even hard for highly educated and skilled nurses to bargain collectively.

      Governments could simply close the schools for as long as teachers wanted to remain on the picket lines.

      Unions generally have no power outside of food[rots fast], police[need knowledge of localized criminal law and criminals], ports[$2 billion+ a day of imports], firefighting[the city could burn down], commercial construction[X million dollars invested earning nothing, but costing interest], and a few other fields.

      The example of Las Vegas workers sounds good, but the Las Vegas market is rather unique in having people literally throwing their money into the hands of the casinos.

      A casino may make $20,000,000 a year. A fast food restaurant may make $60,000 a year.

      The restaurant probably needs to fight for every dollar. The casino doesn't and would be foolish to do so since it could lose $60,000 profits plus $300,000 in fixed costs in a day.

    •  Wow (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      metal prophet

      That's like the best diary I've ever read on here...

    •  Thanks for the thorough explanation, but ... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      StuartZ, kraant

      I'm still not convinced about blanket support for unions. I realize I've just opened myself up for a virtual tar & feathering, but please, everyone, don't jump down my throat. I get the whole "all ships rise w/ the tide" argument about union wages raising all wages. I agree that with or without union efforts bolstering wages the U.S. can't compete on wage price with China and emerging nations. On the surface it makes sense that increasing productivity is the answer to remaining competitive in an environment of rising wages.

      However, I disagree with your overal assertion that unions help keep companies more competitive. Critical to your argument is that unions involve themselves in long-term strategy with their partner companies. On a practical level, I just haven't seen it. Look at Detroit in the 70's, 80's and today. Where has the union been telling management to build smaller, more fuel efficient, well-built and well-designed vehicles? You'd think the same f-ing issues that industry has experienced in each of the last three decades would have been a wake-up call. It seems like their focus has been on short-to-intermediate term wage gains at the expense of long-term stragey and overall viability of the employing company.

      As far as union's keeping employee turnover low, every coin has two sides. I've worked in union environments where it has been virtually impossible to terminate a union employee who sucked at his job without management having to go to extraordinary and burdensome measures. Working alongside an employee who is no damn good at his job while you are pulling your weight and knowing there's no downside for that guy is demoralizing to the rest of the good workers. I've seen it drag everyone else down to the lower level because they figure why work harder when even the screw-ups don't get fired. I really do want to be convinced that greater unionization is the way to go for all situations, but this just hasn't done it for me. Be gentle, ye flame throwers...

      "Imagination is more important than knowledge" - Albert Einstein

      by Citizen Earth on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 12:12:46 PM PDT

      •  Yeah, there are problems (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ignacio Magaloni, BMarshall, E Love

        and we should fix them.  There are problems everywhere we need to fix.  How hard is it for us as Democrats to fire Lieberman?  How much harder is it for us to take over every local Dem HQ that does a lousy job?  I've seen the same thing happen in non-union environments where the boss wouldn't fire anyone no matter what.  It's tough, but you can get the crew together and convince the person to leave or get everyone on board to make the management do something about it.

        No solution works every time, but unions work better more often than not.

        A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.

        by Webster on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 12:23:22 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  back to basics (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          BMarshall, Webster, kraant

          The essence of the union is not political clout, but organizing.  In that sense, many of today's unions have neglected themselves.  

          The tragedy of the decline of unions is that generations of American kids are not growing up like I did -- at least hearing from grandpa or dad, the basic principles of what it means to be organized, to be made politically aware that yeah - there are powerful interests out there who want to limit your opportunities and can't be unreservedly trusted.  My grandfather's generation would have actually witnessed actual organizing activities.  (My generation largely did not.)

          All of that knowledge is vanishing.  Kids today just do not know the first thing about putting up a fight.

          9 counties, 70 towns, 200 miles, and one monstrous and unnecessary project. Stop NYRI.

          by NYCO on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 12:28:25 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  You're right (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            kraant

            They don't know how to fight for anything other than themselves because everything has been translated into the model of a zero sum game.  I think too that when The Union to which all Americans belong works against you and lies to you, all unions tend to be distrusted.

            A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.

            by Webster on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 12:49:16 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  They don't listen to their union reps anymore. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            kraant

            Shame.  They're on the same side.

            The trouble with war is that it kills off the best men a country has.-Rep. C. A. Lindbergh (R-MN)

            by Ice Blue on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 01:21:13 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  My late father ran both union and (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kraant

        non-union shops.  He knew what a bear union contracts could be about terminations and such.  That's why, in non-union shops, he always paid his labor force more than he had to--satisfied workers seldom unionize.

        The trouble with war is that it kills off the best men a country has.-Rep. C. A. Lindbergh (R-MN)

        by Ice Blue on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 01:18:26 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  My father ran both union and non-union (0+ / 0-)

        shops.  He knew what a bear union contracts could be about terminations and such.  That's why he always paid his labor force more than he had to--because satisfied workers seldom unionize!

        The trouble with war is that it kills off the best men a country has.-Rep. C. A. Lindbergh (R-MN)

        by Ice Blue on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 01:26:58 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  wow (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kraant

        Look at Detroit in the 70's, 80's and today. Where has the union been telling management to build smaller, more fuel efficient, well-built and well-designed vehicles?

        What makes you think that the automakers would have listened to us?  And what makes you think that it wasn't tried but rebuffed?  I think the UAW should have taken an aggressive stance in favor of higher CAFE standards, but I was in the minority. That aside, the UAW doesn't design the cars and the automakers are VERY jealous about that.

        The union's job is to build them, not design them. I fail to see what kind of pressure we could have put on them to make more fuel efficient vehicles.  Go on strike? Slowdown assembly lines?   There was no pressure to put on them.  We did co-opt CAFE standards as Yokich felt that was the best thing to do to maintain our contracts, but apart from that, what else could we have done?  

        "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness." Mark Twain

        by dougymi on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 03:21:25 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  One of the rationales given in the original post (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          StuartZ, kraant

          for unions was that they can exert influence on management. I sincerely hope the UAW did try to pressure the Big 3 into changing design, fuel economy, etc. If they didn't, they weren't serving the long-term interests of their membership. If they thought that wasn't within their scope of responsibility, I submit they are being short-sighted. Keeping a company competitive through involvement in whatever areas of operation should be on every union's agenda. If the Big 3 didn't listen for whatever reason, then in my view that only validates my reservations about a union, that they aren't really effective where it counts. As for pressure? Yes, strike, slowdown, public relations - especially in today's electronic media world.

          I fear the world today with a truly global economy is so different from decades past where unions had a place and did serve the worker and the overall economy well. I guess if we demanded that our trade partners provided their workers with the same wage and worker safety standards as our laws demand, I'd feel better about the whole thing. Until then, I'm still unconvinced.

          "Imagination is more important than knowledge" - Albert Einstein

          by Citizen Earth on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 05:04:23 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Thanks (0+ / 0-)

            For saying this.

            I think that there needs to be quid pro quo for our support, or at least our degree of support for unionization.

            It's not reasonable to have a simple pro-union ideology that doesn't take into account what we'd like to see from unions.  The examples you raise in response to the diary's "unions are good for productivity, good for the company, good for the consumer" statements are necessary for a real dialogue to take place.

            Thanks again for standing up for reality in this discussion.

            •  Thanks right back at you (0+ / 0-)

              I was expecting a rabid pack of e-hounds to savage my posts. I appreciate everyone's willingness to engage in a civil manner in the face of dissent about an obviously charged issue.

              "Imagination is more important than knowledge" - Albert Einstein

              by Citizen Earth on Wed Jun 14, 2006 at 10:41:20 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

    •  Well it would be nice if I could pick up a hammer (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      StuartZ, kraant

      while putting up my tradeshow booth without having someone yell at me that a union laborer is the only one qualified to use a hammer :)

    •  Have a blog union (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kraant

      Basically, the SEIU has to come in and organize us, in some kind of weird, electronic way.

    •  Great diary! (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ignacio Magaloni, kraant, gpdx

      And this is an issue where Dems have really dropped the ball. Labor is an important segment of our country and unions are needed now more than ever. In fact, unions are needed in just about every aspect of our country. Some white collar workers could benefit as well.
      I've worked in jobs both covered by a union and not. And my situation today is vastly different than when I was covered - less vacation, lower pay, fewer holidays, etc.
      And funny, all the CEO's and others who blame the workers for the failure of companies and being greedy don't seem to have any problem taking millions in salary and stock options, obscene golden parachutes, long business "golf" outings, putting in a few hours a day. They feel entitled.  They're better thant that rest of us.
      Fooey!
      There isn't a single company that I can think of where if you replaced the CEO anyone would notice. The top echelon does almost nothing. It is the company as a whole, the collective memory, talent and hard work of everyone working in every level that makes a company successful.
      CEO's used to make about 15 times the lowest worker's wage. They now make something like 350 times that (ok, myu numbers might be off - it's probably higher). Do they contribute 350 times to the success? Doubt it.
      Dems must embrace this as an important issue. From Reagan on, the right has demonized unions, just like the word liberal. And some Dems have bought into it. It's time to turn the tide.

      All Truth is non-partisan

      by MA Liberal on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 12:48:34 PM PDT

    •  thanks for this diary (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Webster, kraant, dougymi

      I am here in Las Vegas for the UAW Convention. It started the day that the YKos ended, probably across the street. This convention contrasts sharply with the atmosphere that it sounds like YKos had-- people are worried about their jobs, their pensions, their health care, etc. We are having fun, but there is concern in the air.

      I love DKos. I don't write much, but I'm here every day, and I give my money to DKos candidates, etc. But this diary was long overdue. It is my thesis that the downfall of the progressive agendas and the Democratic Party over the last twenty years has everything to do with the decline of unions. The netroots must build bridges to labor, or at least realize that labor will everything to do with our the success of our progressive goals. Right now, unions are under fire. We progressives should rally around them.

      •  was Gettelfinger as gloomy as the press (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kraant

        reported?  How are things going there?  I'm UAW as well. Local 652 out of Lansing. Any other news to report?  All the news around here is pretty bad.

        As for this site, there's a lot of antiunion sentiment.  Apparently the DKos American dream only applies to white collar and academics. I wouldn't look for much support around here.  Depresses the hell out of me to read some of the comments.  

        "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness." Mark Twain

        by dougymi on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 03:26:59 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I disagree! (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          kraant

          I think that most posters (and lurkers) on these fora are very supportive of labor. However, for many of those in unions, unionism is a religion. Anytime someone criticizes unions, those in the labor movement don't actually address the criticism, instead they open the holy book of past union accomplishments and tell everyone about how great unions were 50 or 100 years ago.

          This only feeds into the idea that unions are dinosaurs better suited for the 20th century.

          Unions are in trouble, not because 80% of the nation (the non-unioned part) is stupid or evil. They are in trouble because they have failed to connect with modern workers in America. We are an ADHD nation. So, to move forward, unions will need to show how they can improve today's workers lives today, not just rely on ancient tales of heroic deeds done in bygone days.

          If a union wants to step into the 21st century and tell me how unionizing can improve my life, I am willing to listen.

    •  Excellent post. Thank you! (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Webster, kraant, gpdx
      Bookmarked so I can always refer to it, when necessary, or needed to educate others.

      I was once a union steward in my county .gov dept/office.  I got hounded out of my job for my union activist participation and pro-union attitude. (Union did all they could to help save my job, but the tactics used againt me were very Rovian, before we understood what "Rovian" meant or was...)

      So even though I'm no longer in a union, I still support union labor 100%.  And I won't cross a picket line for any reason, regardless of the business being picketed.  If union is having a problem with 'em, ah well, union gets the benefit of the doubt with me.  

      The Democratic Party must reclaim its Labor base.     Your post on dKos is definitely a step on that path.  Thanks.

    •  I grew up in a Union household . . . (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      tmo, Webster, John DE, kraant, NearlyNormal

      My father was a member of the Electrical Workers Union, the UAW and the AFL-CIO.  In our house, we lived through auto worker strikes, my father picketing, and all of us hoping the strike would be over, and that my father would bring home a pay check again.  I know, through my childhood experience, the value of unions and that my family's life was positively affected through higher wages and better benefits. I only lament that Unions have gotten such a bad name, and that the threat of jobs moving overseas is stifling union organization.  

    •  Unions (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Webster, John DE

      are important, regardless of how well some companies treat their workers. Companies that do not embrace unions (i.e walmart) are seen as evil by many.Heck a whole movie was made about how bad they are(it truly is great).

      Keep unions chugging. Get cingular. Support your local union. Because unless every company treated their workers well, which is near impossible, unions will always be needed as a balance.

    •  Badly needed: Future Labor Leaders in schools (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kraant

      There's what---over a million kids in high schools in DECA, VICA, and FBLA?   How many learning labor organizing skills in schools?
      ZERO.
      Now you know one of the several reasons why Dems start out every election behind.   The voting population has already been immersed in a pro corporate agenda for many years.
      Why is there not one high school---one---with a Future Labor Leaders of America club?

      "In a system of immense power, small differences can translate into large outcomes." Chomsky

      by formernadervoter on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 04:42:38 PM PDT

    •  Democrats support Taft-Hartley? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kraant

      They've never worked to overthrow this vicious anti-union law, at least since the first years after its passage. Even then, a majority of the Democrats in Congress voted along with the Republicans to override Truman's veto.

      I see a lot of lip service by Democrats (as a whole, not certain exceptions) to labor, but very little done to help labor... and I mean organized labor, not necessarily pro-labor bills like minimum wage.

      Someone with their ear ask Boxer, Feingold, Gore, Warner, etc. if they would fight to get rid of Taft-Hartley. Then report back their reply. I would be curious.

      "Existence is a flame which constantly melts and recasts our theories." -- R.D. Laing

      by Valtin on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 05:29:07 PM PDT

      •  Not true (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        metal prophet, peraspera, kraant

        There have been a number of attempts to overturn provisions of Taft-Hartley, each time being filibustered by the GOP and Dixecrats in the past.  

        A majority of the Congress under Clinton supported repealing rules that allowed companies to "permanently replace" strikers, but the bill was filibustered.   In the piece above, I noted that there was support for repealing the "right to work" provisions of Taft-Hartley, but it was filibustered and the unions refused to sell out voting rights to cut a deal with the rightwing to end the filibuster.

        What is true is that there has never been the sixty votes needed to overcome anti-union filibusters, and there is little prospect of the near term to do so.  So we have to succeed through strong organizing on the ground and whatever state laws can be passed to promote union strength.

        •  The truth is (0+ / 0-)

          The Democrats stopped making this a priority around which they mobilize people, and stopped that about 30-40 years ago. They mount token opposition and bills, but compare the amount of arm-twisting and pressure Clinton gave to passing NAFTA to what the Democrats have done to change anti-labor law.

          Even today, you'd have to have super-human hearing to ascertain any Democratic call for pro-union changes in the laws. That stuff is kept for Labor Day picnics, labor-called or courting conferences, and the Congressional Record.

          The classic example of the Democrats viz Taft-Hartley comes with the vote to override Truman's veto of that anti-union bill: the Democrats voted in their majority to override that veto.

          "Existence is a flame which constantly melts and recasts our theories." -- R.D. Laing

          by Valtin on Wed Jun 14, 2006 at 10:31:38 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  It might make sense, instead of 'repealing' T-H, (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        NickM

        to reshape labor law to:

        1.  Increase the penalties for employer violations,  add economic disincentives to prevent employer bad faith bargaining, and add binding arbitration at least for first contracts;
        1.  Make it easier to go and get court orders immediately stopping and reversing the impact of those employer violations;
        1.  Make organizing easier and actually encouraged, as it was in the beginning;
        1.  Prevent employers from permanently replacing strikers, as they can now (because of a Supreme Court decision that predated Taft-Hartley);
        1.  Make the administrative remedial process quicker and easier;
        1.  Give unions greater boycott and picketing ability;
        1.  Broaden the categories of workers that can be organized to include people like T/A's, and supervisors;
        1.  Properly staff and de-inertialize the NLRB.

        This program is partly found in the Employee Free Choice Act, but is not quite the same as "getting rid of" Taft-Hartley.  It would leave in place some parts of that law, but obviously would be a vast improvement over the status quo.

    •  Oh, the woes of unions... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kraant

      I live 'way up north here in the land of ice and snow and Celsius temperatures. While you may know that our federal government recently had a Conservative (right wing) majority elected to replace a Liberal (centre) majority that had lasted for at least ten years, some of the provincial governments have been right wing for years. Case in point: Alberta, land of the oil fields.

      The one that I focus more upon is British Columbia. The provincial "Liberal" party has turned neo-conservative in the last ten years or so. One of the most-abused pieces of legislation is the "Essential Services Act", which was amended in 2001 to basically remove the right to strike by any service considered "essential" - which now includes public schools, kindergarten-grade 12; BC Ferries; and medical services such as nurses. All unions. All stiffed by the BC government and derided in the mainstream media.

      I'm in a touch of hurry here, so for your enjoyment a link to the legislative debate in 2001 about whether or not to remove teachers' right to strike. Joy McPhail was the House Leader of the New Democrat Party (NDP) (left wing), which at the time had two, count'em two, members in a caucus of 79 representatives - the other 77 were BC Liberal.

    •  Hear, hear!!! n/t (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      peraspera, kraant

      LetsFight. re handle: Fight the radical right is the sentiment!

      by letsfight on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 07:52:02 PM PDT

    •  Than you sir... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      peraspera, kraant

      for posting this. As a person who grew up in a Teamster household, and was in unions off and on depending on the job, this is a much needed education for those not aware how much unions do and why they are important.

      absolute freedom for one individual undoubtedly limits the freedom of another.

      by jbou on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 08:55:37 PM PDT

    •  great primer .. knowledge is power .. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kraant

      thanks for pumping up the capacitors.

      Recommend!

      "Rovus vulgaris americanus"
      Chronic infection
      of Democracy.
      Cure: Pending
      -7.63, -9.59

      by shpilk on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 09:33:53 PM PDT

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