by John Reimann
I had high hopes when I saw the headline: “A Wish for Labor Day: Visionary Union Leaders.” Well, considering the source – a building contractor named Richard Pieper writing in the Wall St. Journal – not really. But one can always dream, right?
Pieper points out that the unions in the US have steadily lost ground for years. “Thirty-four years ago there were 21 million public and private union members, or roughly 24% of the workforce. Today, membership is about 14.4 million, or 11.3% of the workforce.” He cites AFL-CIO president Rich Trumka approvingly, when Trumka says that the present approach of the unions is “failing”. But what does Pieper mean by that?
For starters, he castigates SEIU president Mary Kay Henry for calling for the unions to “help workers boost wages.” At least Henry calls for it in words. Instead, what Peiper says, is this: “Visionary leaders have an opportunity to help workers adapt successfully. For starters, they could help expand the economy by helping employers become more competitive.”
What does this mean?
Read more: 2 Labor Day 2013
Categories: labor, United States
The writer of this piece seems to be equating the conditions of transit workers with the conditions of people working in industries which compete internationally. If employers are competing with industries in other countries or even in lower wage states they must either compete in the area of labor, move to those countries or states, or just go out of business. In either case the worker is left unemployed, which is not a particularly satisfying victory. I am sympathetic with labor and with responsible employers who face the daunting challenge of competing with the skeleton wages paid to international workers and do not pretend to have an answer. Having read this piece I do not feel like the author has an answer relevant to the times and conditions either.
There was a time when international competition was minimal, but workers in the US were only organized regionally. They learned that they needed national organizations and national unity, so they started building unions on a national vs. regional basis. Now, workers must go beyond that. Unions have to be organized globally. A start would be direct links between, for instance, auto workers in the US and their counterparts elsewhere. It would be quite easy, in fact, for delegations of US auto workers to visit their counterparts in Mexico and Canada. The unions must be organized top shut down entire industries globally in order to raise wages around the world and in order to stop runaway shops.
That would be an important start.
However, the old saying holds true: “You can’t control what you don’t own.” In the end we will have to take the commanding heights of the economy out of private hands, place them under public ownership and plan the economy under democratic workers’ control and management.