Labor Schism Widens

Discussion
Jul 05, 2005
George Anderson

By George Anderson

A fight is taking place over the future direction of national organized labor. At the heart of the matter is a fractious disagreement over how to reverse the decline in union membership around the country.

Last month, the presidents of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Teamsters, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), Laborers, and UNITE HERE formed the “Change To Win Coalition.”

The group, which represents about 35 percent of the total membership of the AFL-CIO, said the union’s leadership has failed to put enough support into organizing new members.

According to the socialist weekly, The Militant, union membership – about 12.5 percent of all U.S. workers – is at its lowest points in decades.

An editorial in the publication maintains that neither the current leadership of the AFL-CIO or those in “Change to Win Coalition” has workers’ interests at heart. Both factions fail to address, The Militant maintains, “the needs of working people in face of a concerted attack by the bosses and their government on our wages, job conditions, social gains, and rights.”

Both sides, the publication argues, “promote collaboration with the employers on the false premise that bosses and workers have common interests to save ‘our’ companies, instead of mobilizing the ranks to defend the interests of working people. Seeking to maintain their high living atop the union movement, labor officials on both sides advocate ever-bigger unions mergers, which only weaken the industrial character and potential power of the unions.”

Moderator’s Comment: What role is there for organized labor in retailing and related businesses today? Do workers and management have common interests
as many maintain or is it a smokescreen as the socialist publication, The Militant, suggests?

George Anderson – Moderator

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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9 Comments on "Labor Schism Widens"


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M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
15 years 7 months ago

“The bosses and their government?” Man, talk about rhetoric dated back into the early years of the last century! No wonder the unions can’t keep up with modern business models and practices. Their leaders remain rooted firmly in the past.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
15 years 7 months ago

Leave it to George to draw to our attention that there is a labor publication called “The Militant.” Can’t say I’m a regular reader. The easy answer is to say we don’t need unions anymore. In a perfect world, that would be the case. But, until we have weeded out corruption among the “bosses,” as The Militant calls top execs, we better hang on to the unions, just as a counterweight.

David Livingston
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

If you are a retail worker, just ask yourself what the union will do for you. Is it really worth the few dollars per hour more that a union might be able to provide if it only causes the premature demise of your employer, loss of pay due to strikes, the closing down of viable locations? Sometimes I think that if unions had not tied so many retailers’ hands, Wal-Mart would not be as strong as they are. Then on the other extreme, are the regional ESOPs, which would probably see a pay cut, having a union? Until unions can find ways to enhance shareholder value, wages, and job security at the same, they will probably be left outside looking in.

Mark Burr
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

The answers are basically rooted in the same evaluations that would be made of a retail business. Workers need a reason for belonging to a union just as a consumer requires a reason to shop at any retail business. Workers also need to perceive that there is real value in having the relationship.

Simply consider the reasons for failing retailers as you would for failing unions. There is little reason or little value in the relationship. The comparison is exactly the same.

The decline in union membership is also in direct proportion to the decline of the corporations that they were originally set up in decades ago. Both have failed. Quite remarkable, isn’t it?

Also take a look at major unionized retailers. What do you see as the future there?

This could also turn around as unrest continues to mount at Wal-Mart. However, that appears to be distant and unlikely. The answer there, however, will be in the value evaluations by the workers.

Jeff Weitzman
Guest
Jeff Weitzman
15 years 7 months ago

I think unions can be relevant again, especially in today’s political climate. If you are a worker watching the government’s decidedly pro-business turn, but don’t feel like you’re benefiting from it at all, you’re a good candidate for recruitment by a union. But I think unions have suffered from their own problems, and workers don’t feel like the union bosses care about their problems that much either. Unions have focused so much on job retention that they have watered down everyone’s ability to get ahead. If I was a good, productive worker, not able to get a merit raise or feeling like I was carrying two other workers mandated by a union contract, I wouldn’t be too happy with the union either.

If unions can redefine themselves to once again be seen as the worker’s champion, standing as a bulwark against perceptions of corporate greed and a government that cares more about corporate profits than about the quality of life for corporate workers, they have a chance to regain some ground.

Charles Magowan
Guest
Charles Magowan
15 years 7 months ago
In the interests of preserving the benefits of their senior members, unions made substantial concessions regarding new hires. That undermined solidarity, exposed any lack of justification for paying more based upon seniority and made the union less useful to the new hires. The new hires are also less able to afford the sacrifices, such as strike expenses. As long as “some are more equal than others,” unions internalize the class struggle to their own detriment. Their demands regarding benefits also tended to attract the workers who needed those benefits most and couldn’t get them from a non-union employer. This policy was selected for a membership that is less able to afford a strike, and thus, undermined the unions’ bargaining power. It’s also clear that unions are less and less able to persuade their members to strike in sympathy with another union. The historically militant Teamsters made a short but merely ceremonial show of force during the So-Cal grocery strike and then promptly went back to work. Objectively, if unions aren’t willing to close the increasing… Read more »
Edward Cuttle
Guest
Edward Cuttle
15 years 7 months ago

Given the opportunity, unions can and will screw up one of the few remaining sources of employment that can’t be outsourced overseas, but certainly could be downsized or overrun by non union start-ups, reference the airline industry. The only winners in a wide scale unionization of the retail industry will be the union management. In the only retail area they have been successful in organizing (retail grocery), the ranks are thinning as more and more go broke or downsize and they continue to lose market share to the Wal-Mart, Save-A-Lot and other non-union stores. Wasn’t too long ago you could by fresh cut meat at Wal-Mart. Unfortunately, the butchers organized themselves out of jobs.

Unionism is Socialism and I’m not aware of anywhere it has been successful.

Jeff Weitzman
Guest
Jeff Weitzman
15 years 7 months ago

Dialmaster, try Norway and Sweden, systems we would consider to have socialist governments, and certainly unions, both of which have higher standards of living than we do on most accepted measures. Canada, poster child for socialized medicine? Also a higher standard of living, ditto Australia. Maybe you meant Communism? [Click to see standard of living reference.]

R. Scannell
Guest
R. Scannell
15 years 7 months ago

Retail Wire and George Anderson read the Militant!!??? You have got to be among the few folks in the world that do. Nobody in US unions take the Militant seriously…its an insignificant, little Trostkyist paper.

There are serious potential consequences for the retail industry if major retail and distribution unions like the Teamsters and the United Food and Commercial Workers leave the AFL-CIO. Rather than wasting your time reading the Militant and debating whether unions should exist (yawn), perhaps you might focus on the practical questions the current debate within organized labor raise for the retail industry.

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