The Civil Wars in U.S. Labor: Birth of a New Workers' Movement or Death Throes of the Old?

Reply Mon 18 Apr, 2011 10:55 am
In 1976, I was the only woman on a panel of 10 labor union presidents at American University in Washington D.C. I made the men angry because I warned them that if they didn't start organizing women and hiring women organizers for their unions, within 20 years I feared the union movement would no longer exist. How dare I say the men could not maintain and build their unions without the help of women, they ranted. Their attack at me was furious. Sadly, It didn't take 20 years for my warning arrived.


The Civil Wars in U.S. Labor: Birth of a New Workers' Movement or Death Throes of the Old?
by Steve Early

Product Description

BETWEEN 2008 AND 2010, the progressive wing of the U.S. labor movement tore itself apart in a series of internecine struggles. More than $140 million was expended, by all sides, on organizing conflicts that tarnished union reputations and undermined the campaign for real health care and labor law reform. Campus and community allies, along with many rank-and-file union members, were left angered and dismayed.

In this incisive new book, labor journalist Steve Early draws on scores of interviews and on his own union organizing experience to explain why and how these labor civil wars occurred. He examines the bitter disputes about union structure, membership rights, organizing strategy, and contract standards that enveloped SEIU, UNITE HERE, the California Nurses Association, and independent organizations like the Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico and the new National Union of Healthcare Workers in California. Along the way, we meet rank-and-file activists, local union officers, national leaders, and concerned friends of labor who were drawn into the fray.


“Steve Early’s book describes the kind of anti-union campaigning by management that makes passage of the Employee Free Choice Act so necessary. Early’s account of how and why labor law reform has been stalled for the third time in the last 32 years should be required reading for all workers’ rights advocates. As the author notes, collective bargaining faces private sector extinction. To protect the right to organize, we still need changes in the Wagner Act itself—not just better appointments to the NLRB.”
—U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

“Civil Wars in U.S. Labor critiques a union culture that privileges control over the practice of democracy. With an honest eye, the author adds an essential chapter to the long history of rank-and-file efforts to keep unionism vibrant and engaged... compelling reading.”
—Vanessa Tait, author, Poor Workers’ Unions

"Civil Wars is as lively as it is detailed... [providing] insights into just what the labor movement can become when democracy takes hold and members get active. It will infuriate some, but inspire many more to build and transform their unions."
—Kim Moody, author, U.S. Labor in Trouble and Transition

“Although some union leaders may take issue with Steve Early’s blunt and forthright criticism of organized labor, no one can deny the clear and convincing case he makes for labor unity. As Early’s reporting on the fate of Employee Free Choice demonstrates, a union movement that can’t stay united behind basic principles and rights for its members eventually may find itself bereft of any principles, rights … or members.”
—Linda K. Foley, former president, The Newspaper Guild/CWA, and former member of AFL-CIO Executive Council

“Early's journalism is powerful because he has been in the trenches himself fighting to organize workers and make unions more democratic. This book is a must read, particularly for young organizers trying to make sense of contemporary American trade unionism."
—Peter Olney, Director of Organizing, International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU)

"Steve Early is not just another scholar situated outside the labor movement. For more than thirty-five years, he helped do the hard work of organizing and collective bargaining. His latest book confirms that there is no one with a better understanding of contemporary union problems. When he warns about the dangers of undemocratic practices, sweetheart deals with employers, and over reliance on the Democratic Party, we had better listen."
—Michael Yates, author, Why Unions Matter

“Steve Early’s account of recent troubles within and between progressive unions is an engaging and original work. Early is the most tenacious, free-thinking journalist covering labor today, respected by friend and foe alike. Civil Wars is essential to understanding how union centralization and top-down control have failed as a strategy for revitalizing the labor movement.”
—Immanuel Ness, professor, Brooklyn College, CUNY, editor, WorkingUSA and author, Immigrants, Unions and The New U.S. Labor Movement.

“This is Steve Early at his finest, committed, principled and practical. In Civil Wars, the true SEIU is revealed- no holds barred - its incarnation of corporate unionism is laid bare for all to see. Then, the author follows the remarkable rise of the National Union of Healthcare Workers. His book is a passionate appeal for clean, decent, democratic trade unionism and much more –it makes the case, urgently, honestly, for workers’ power.”
—Cal Winslow, labor historian and author, Labor’s Civil War In California

“Steve Early shows how leading unions are grappling with the trade-offs between contract standards and growth in the private sector. If the quid pro quo for organizing rights includes limiting workers' ability to build a real union and fight for better conditions in the future, that's a serious problem in any labor organization, including my own.”
—Sandy Pope, President of Teamsters Local 805 and candidate for IBT President

“Civil Wars in U.S. Labor is a passionate, thoroughly researched indictment of recent misdeeds by America's second largest labor organization, the Service Employees International Union. It’s also a cri de coeur for union democracy, not just in principle or as a fine sentiment, but in highly practical ways that are illustrated throughout this rigorously-argued book. Anyone who cares about the future of American labor should read (and study) this 21st Century ‘J’accuse!’”
—Jack Metzgar, professor emeritus, Roosevelt University and author, Striking Steel

“The pleasures of Early as a writer stem, in part, from his never having had to face the anonymous blandness-generating torture chamber of academic peer review. His opinions have edges and his humor has a delightful snarkiness. If only more texts on labor were as well written or half as funny.”
—Robert Ross, Professor of Sociology, Clark University and author, Slaves To Fashion

“Civil Wars penetrates the purple haze of confusion about a major union’s painful and destructive estrangement from its own members, other labor organizations, and longtime campus and community allies.”
—Randy Shaw, founder, Tenderloin Housing Clinic, co-editor of BeyondChron, and author, Beyond The Fields

“Democracy means having a choice and we, the rank-and-file members of NUHW, have been in a great struggle to insure that we do have a choice of unions in California hospitals and nursing homes. Steve Early's book shows that, when workers are faced with dictatorship, they will do what it takes to safeguard their rights and liberties.”
—Brenda Washington, LVN and NUHW Executive Board Member

“Early’s ability to merge humor and thoughtful analysis sets his work apart from much of the contemporary writing on organized labor, and makes it a strong contender for inclusion in labor extension and labor education curriculum.”
—Daisy Rooks, Department of Sociology, University of Montana

“Many who join the labor movement and participate in its critical struggles discover, sooner or later, that we are a movement with some major shortcomings. Invariably, if you speak out about these internal problems, you will be asked — or told — to keep them under wraps. Not Steve Early. In Civil Wars, he takes a hard look at recent union conflicts that became outright fiascos and a source of widespread political outrage.”
—Chris Townsend, Political Action Director, United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE)

“Steve Early was one of the few North American journalists to report on the struggle of Puerto Rican teachers, when they came under attack by a tainted governor and his political ally, SEIU. As Early demonstrates, unions that combine participatory democracy, member engagement and aggressive action in the workplace provide a much-needed model for the rest of the labor movement.”
—Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, RN, Puerto Rico Solidarity Network and Labor Notes Policy Committee

“This is a much needed piece of journalism. The author’s perspective on how ‘60s activists shaped the labor movement, for better or worse, adds both historical depth and personal flavor to the larger story. Civil Wars deserves a wide audience.”
—Kate Titus, former Change To Win organizer

“Steve Early takes us inside one of the most important struggles for union democracy in recent years. His book is a reflective, self-critical look at how radical reformers have shaped today’s union movement and how some have contributed to the problems we set out to correct.”
—Fernando Gapasin, Labor educator, activist, and co-author of Solidarity Divided

“Civil Wars doesn’t just make a principled argument for union democracy and rank-and-file militancy., it demonstrates that they are the key to organizing the unorganized and revitalizing working class resistance in an age of global capitalism. Labor activists and scholars, in both the United States and Canada, will find this book invaluable.”
—Peter Brogan, Department of Geography, York University and founding member, Greater Toronto Workers' Assembly

“Civil Wars shows how tens of thousands of low-wage women—who care for the young, the aged, and the infirm—have waged successful organizing campaigns, only to find that they lacked a sufficient voice in their own union. This is a story that only Steve Early could have told, with his insider’s access and rank-and-file orientation. There is no better guide to American labor’s continuing infirmities than this often-controversial but always insightful commentator.”
—Jane LaTour, Former Director, Association for Union Democracy Women’s Project and author, Sisters in the Brotherhoods

“My own labor council has seen raids on affiliates, driven by forces far from the lives of the workers who meet in our union hall each month. Union civil warfare is often viewed as mere personality conflicts or disputes over ‘jurisdiction.’ Early looks deeper, at the tough debates about how to rebuild the labor movement and the nature of the movement we are trying to build.”
—Jeff Crosby, President, IUE-CWA Local 201, and North Shore Central L...

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Reply Mon 18 Apr, 2011 03:40 pm
The union structure as it currently stands must either die, (possibly completely) or have a massive overhaul (which can be seen as as a full death). It cannot stand as
it is. Whether the ition injecton of more women is the answer, I can't say, it may well be too late.

Whereas unions have served a purpose and continue to do so, much of their Powhatan much of their power has been weakened by greed. Wages and benefits which in many cases went out of control helped sign and seal the fate. Where they helped all workers by leading to a saner number of hours and a better pay scale and safer conditions they at the same time began losing sight
of where they came from.

When Ernest Poole wrote The Harbor, unions were in their infancy and a future did exist indeed.

Either a reality check and a restructure or the end, full and complete...

...and then the wait until conditions once more become so dire that there will be but one way out and a new generation maybe 30, 50, maybe 100 maybe 500 years forward will be charged with the task rebuilding.
Reply Tue 19 Apr, 2011 10:07 am
The Wisconsin governor may have given the Labor Union movement a second chance to strengthen the working classes with the support of women and the younger generations.

Reply Wed 20 Apr, 2011 08:05 am
Time will tell. Let's hope it's not too late, though judging by the lack of respondants to this thread, which could well have led to a grand discussion on unions, both pro and con, I fear my concerns may be well founded.
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Reply Wed 20 Apr, 2011 01:47 pm
I only observe that when unions are spoken of, we always say 'labor unions'. Now, considering that the unions with greatest growth rates are comprised of government employees, isn't the addition of the word 'labor' something of an oxymoron?
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Reply Wed 20 Apr, 2011 02:38 pm
It's possible, but in my view, not likely. Many states have recently enacted new restrictions on the bargaining powers they allow their agencies and local governments to delegate to the collective bargaining process, arguing - as does the Federal Government - that these are inherent rights and obligations of government and are not delegable. Some states are even considering Right to Work laws, reaweakening an issue that has been dormant for years. The decline of private sector unions continues as companies and industries infested with them decline and die. Many existing private sector unions have very serious problems involving the underfunding of multi employer pension funds, and the often failing companies that support them. Union organizing of new and emerging industries such as technology and biotech has been notably unsuccessful. The only growth the labor movement has seen in decades has been among government workers and that was almost always achieved through political action and government administrative decisions. Now with the prospect of long-term cotinuing government financial crises and stress, the prospects for further advances in this area appear very remote: merely containing their losses will likely be the chief preoccupation of labor leaders in this area.

I believe BBB is correct in that the struggles in Wisconsin and other states have certainly energized labor leaders and aroused committed elements among their members. However that should not be confused with success, economic health and growth in the labor movement. Indeed, despite all the sound and fury even in Wisconsin, they did not succeed in defeating the state judges they targeted, and the inevitable application of the new legal regime for government unions in that state appears to be just a matter of time.

I believe the Labor movement is now an anachronism. It was an important and often beneficial element of our society in an earlier age, but that age is now past.
Reply Thu 21 Apr, 2011 11:02 am
April 20, 2011
Federal labor agency tries to block nonunion Boeing plant
By James Rosen | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — The top lawyer for the National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday accused Boeing of union busting and retaliating against its Washington state workers for past strikes by moving to produce its new Dreamliner planes at a nonunion plant in South Carolina.

Boeing vowed to fight the NLRB bid to compel the aircraft giant to make the next-generation aircraft at its current plant in Everett, Wash., instead of a half-million-square-foot factory under construction in North Charleston, S.C. The Dreamliner project has been dogged by delays, cost overruns and testing mishaps.

Boeing executive vice president Michael Luttig blasted the ruling as "frivolous," said the company will fight it in court and expressed confidence that production of the 787s will begin as scheduled this summer at its new North Charleston plant.

"Boeing has every right under both federal law and its collective bargaining agreement to build additional U.S. production capacity outside of the Puget Sound region," Luttig said.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which had filed a complaint with the federal labor agency last year on behalf of its 25,000 Boeing workers in the Puget Sound region of Washington, hailed the ruling by NLRB acting general counsel Lafe Solomon.

"Boeing's decision to build a 787 assembly line in South Carolina sent a message that Boeing workers would suffer financial harm for exercising their collective bargaining rights," said Rich Michalski, the union's vice president. "Federal law is clear: It's illegal to threaten or penalize workers who engage in concerted activity."

The union claims that Boeing rejected new labor agreements in accepting almost $900 million in incentives and tax relief from South Carolina to build the Dreamliner in North Charleston.

A total of 2,500 workers already make parts of the Dreamliner's fuselage at adjoining Charleston plants.

George Behan, a spokesman Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., said the longtime Boeing ally is following the dispute with great interest. Dicks was instrumental in steering a long-disputed $35 billion contract for Air Force refueling tankers to the company.

"He recognizes that this step by the NLRB indicates that evidence presented by the union has met a threshold for further action," Behan said. "He will be paying very close attention to the proceedings."

Washington state's senators, Democrats Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, declined to comment on the ruling.

But Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., delivered a scathing indictment of the NLRB move.

"This is one of the worst examples of unelected bureaucrats doing the bidding of special interest groups that I've ever seen," Graham said. "In this case, the NLRB is doing the bidding of the unions at great cost to South Carolina and our nation's economy."

Boeing must file a response to the NLRB complaint by May 4. An administrative law judge will hear the case in Seattle on June 14, with Boeing and union representatives pitted on opposite sides.

Solomon, the NLRB's top lawyer, alleged in his complaint that Boeing's decision to open a factory in South Carolina was made in retaliation for five strikes at its Seattle-area plants between 1977 and 2008.

Solomon cited a half dozen company documents in which various Boeing officials told investors and other groups that the strikes and other threatened work stoppages had caused production delays and made it hard to hit delivery deadlines.

"A worker's right to strike is a fundamental right guaranteed by the National Labor Relations Act," Solomon said. "We also recognize the rights of employers to make business decisions based on their economic interests, but they must do so within the law."

Rep. Tim Scott, R-S.C., accused President Barack Obama of playing politics to appease his pro-labor allies.

"Such heavy-handed tactics on behalf of the president's union supporters are an affront to the people of the Palmetto State who voted overwhelmingly in support of a constitutional amendment guaranteeing workers the right to secret ballots in union elections," Scott said.

Obama's chief of staff, Bill Daley, was on Boeing's board of directors in October 2009 when it voted unanimously to build the Dreamliner's new final-assembly line at the North Charleston site, a $750 million investment projected to create 3,800 jobs in South Carolina.

Read more: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2011/04/20/112535/federal-labor-agency-tries-to.html#ixzz1KB5xWwZp
Reply Thu 21 Apr, 2011 11:20 am
This story merely illustrated the degree to which the current administration's appointments to the NLRM (one the former chief counsel of the SEIU) will go to force unions on reluctant companies, and the equal degree to which the companies will go to avoid the contagion. This one will end with either a Boeing win and production in a right to work state or further off shoring of Boeing's manufacturing operations. Either way the union in Seattle will lose. Boeing must either compete successfully with Airbus and other emerging competitors or die. They can't do that successfully with a labor union all too willing to disrupt complex delivery schedules for its own short term goals. This indeed encapsulates the history of the collapse of the steel, textile and other industries brought down largely by the selfishness and intransigence of backward looking labor unions. Infestation with labor unions is increasingly a fatal disease.
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