Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

"Outstanding…Moore Triumphs! Publishers Weekly

Mike & Friends Blog

Mike Elk

Mike Elk is a labor journalist and staff writer for In These Times

July 5th, 2011 9:39 AM

The Labor Movement Needs an Anti-Concession Movement

In the wake of the historic pushback to Gov. Scott Walker's antiunion agenda in Wisconsin, there has been a lot of talk about what is needed to revive the labor movement. Some claim that what is needed is a change in the overall political environment and labor’s public image to get people more enthusiastic about joining unions. Many felt that Wisconsin would change things for unions and make people more eager to join them.

The reality is that there is plenty of enthusiasm among workers to join unions; the problem is that the barriers to joining a union are so high that few workers are able to successfully join one. Only one out of six organizing campaigns results in a union contract. Public opinion polling consistently shows that a majority of workers would want to join a union if they could. In one out of three organizing campaigns, someone is fired for joining a union, and in half of all union campaigns the company threatens to move production to another facility if workers organize. 20,000 workers every year are fired, disciplined, or threatened with being fired for trying to join a union.

Thus many workers do not even try to join unions because they are afraid. So the question is: How does the labor movement convince people to take the risks associated with unionizing? In his book Reviving the Strike, Joe Burns argues that workers are willing to take the risk of joining unions if the economic benefits of joining a union outweigh the risks of what could happen.

But why would any worker see joining a union as something they take a massive risk on, when so many unions are more than willing to give massive concessions to the boss?

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka endorsed the idea of going along with concessions by saying “We believe in shared sacrifice.” No major movement has emerged to stop concessions from employers making record profits.  Many unions have been willing to make some concessions in exchange for keeping their right to represent union members.

“It seems many union leaders are willing to give whatever to the boss as long as they keep the part of the contract that says 'dues deduction,'” says Don Trementozzi, President of CWA Local 1400. “Why would anyone want to join a union that won’t stand up for you”?

Labor leaders say they often have no choice but to give concessions—there's no way to hold the line. Legally and economically, many unions feel that they could not engage in strikes to fight back against employers’ demands for concessions. In the 1950s, there was an average of 350 strikes a year involving 1,000 or more employees, in the 2000s there was an average of only 20 strikes a year involving 1,000 or more employees.

Burns (a Working In These Times contributor) argues in his book that the key to regaining union power is reviving the strike. The National Labor Relations Act, however, currently allows employers to permanently replace workers out on strike if the strike is ruled an “economic strike.” The only way to maintain an effective strike if workers can easily be replaced is to prevent scab replacement workers from crossing the picket line and to put economic pressure on a company to prevent the permanent hiring of scabs.

Making matters even more difficult, many unions are limited from forming effective picket lines by court injunctions and the Taft-Hartley Act forbids workers from engaging in secondary boycotts of companies that are financially profiting from the use of scab labor.

Burns argues that in order for unions to revive themselves, they must get tough and be willing to break labor laws and incur fines in order to win. Burns argues that unions should do what corporations do when they want to break the law—spin off subsidiaries with little assets when an individual union gets in trouble and needs to go on strike.

His ideas may sound controversial, but Burns notes that even conservative labor leaders like AFL President Samuel Gompers called on trade unionist to defy court injunctions against picketing. Even Richard Trumka broke labor laws that prohibited effective picket lines, wildcat strikes and secondary boycotts as the leader of the United Mineworkers during the Pittston Strike in late 1980s, incurring $64 million worth of fines. (The Mineworkerswound up settling the fines out of court and did not have to pay them.)

A willingness to break restrictive laws about striking and boycotts is vital to drawing people back into the labor movement, Burns argues. A discussion of how to revive the strike is one that is surely needed among the country's labor leaders—and on Wednesday, July 6 at 6:30 p.m., they'll have a chance to discuss the idea with the author himself, when Burns gives a book talk at Busboys & Poets in Washington D.C.

Crossposted from In These Times

You must log in to comment.

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Log in | Register

Big new story from David Sirota and Pando on top Christie adviser and appearance of corruption at New Jersey's pension fund: REVEALED: Gov....

Apr 17th
12:41 PM
Read More

FBI Uncovers Al-Qaeda Plot To Just Sit Back And Enjoy Collapse Of United States www.theonion.com WASHINGTON—The FBI announced today that it has uncovered a...

Apr 15th
3:28 PM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel's top donor bought stock in Marriott just before it was awarded huge contract pando.com As schools are closed and pensions cut,...

Apr 9th
2:00 PM
Read More

I'll be at First Time Fest today in New York City at the screening of my first film, Roger & Me. Loews Village 7 at 12:30 pm. Come see it on the big...

Apr 5th
9:48 AM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel cuts public pensions, diverts money to benefit campaign donors pando.com If you've read the financial news out of Chicago the last...

Apr 4th
2:19 PM
Read More

Please take a moment today to think of Casey Austin Sheehan, son of Cindy and Patrick, who was murdered by U.S. foreign policy in Sadr City, Baghdad ten years...

Apr 4th
2:00 PM
Read More

ICYMI - I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence...

Apr 3rd
7:38 PM
Read More

I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention...

Apr 2nd
8:27 PM
Read More

I am opposed to the death penalty, but to every rule there is usually an exception, and in this case I hope the criminals at General Motors will be arrested...

Apr 1st
3:55 PM
Read More

How Long Some in the US Will Survive Under New Health Law ...by Donna Smith www.michaelmoore.com Those who must access care to live and can afford it are not...

Mar 31st
10:13 PM
Read More

Last night, The Good Wife on the East Coast started 40 minutes late due to the overrun of the NCAA basketball game. If you had your DVR set for the show, you...

Mar 24th
5:41 PM
Read More

Watching films today, looking for the ones I'm going to pick for my film festival this summer. I (and a whole bunch of others!) have this thing we put on...

Mar 23rd
4:48 PM
Read More

When the U.S. Health Care System Keeps Killing, Who Cares Enough to Fight? ...by Donna Smith www.michaelmoore.com We have largely forgotten that people are at...

Mar 21st
5:56 PM
Read More

Tell the White House not to give up on Dr. Vivek Murthy's nomination as Surgeon General despite the ferocious opposition from the NRA: Don't give...

Mar 21st
5:38 PM
Read More

This criminal would never see a jail cell, nor would his cronies. In fact, they'd later be rewarded with re-election: Presidential Address on War with...

Mar 19th
9:40 PM
Read More

The crime of the century -- our invasion & slaughter in Iraq -- started 11 years ago tonite in this 7pm (ET) hour, March 19th, 2003: CNN Coverage of...

Mar 19th
9:08 PM
Read More

Washington’s Back-to-the-Future Military Policies in Africa ...by Nick Turse www.michaelmoore.com Nick Turse is an award-winning journalist, historian,...

Mar 17th
4:59 PM
Read More

"I think democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world." -- Tony Benn, 1925-2014 Tony Benn in 'Sicko'

Mar 14th
10:07 AM
Read More

RIP Tony Benn, one of the UK's greatest leaders: Tony Benn, veteran Labour politician, dies aged 88 www.theguardian.com Former cabinet minister died at...

Mar 14th
9:53 AM
Read More

Please read this important story from K. Ford K.: Am I the Face of the New American Middle Class? www.huffingtonpost.com I began to feel I had slipped so low...

Mar 13th
2:24 PM
Read More

Yesterday Dianne Feinstein revealed that the CIA has been spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is all about the report the committee has produced...

Mar 12th
6:48 PM
Read More

Health Care for All Colorado has brought Mercy Killers, a show written and performed by Michael Milligan about our murderous for-profit healthcare system, to...

Mar 10th
1:08 PM
Read More

Health Care Dramas that Sting and Why We Have to Watch ...by Donna Smith www.michaelmoore.com The realities Milligan has written into the show cut deep into...

Mar 10th
1:02 PM
Read More

Did you know the Lehrer Newshour on PBS has been produced for 20 years by a company owned by conservative cable billionaire John Malone? Me neither. After...

Mar 7th
8:39 PM
Read More

Mr. Obama, if int’l law is so damn crucial . . . | RootsAction.org act.rootsaction.org The Russian intervention deserves criticism. But let’s be clear. The...

Mar 6th
1:21 PM
Read More

Enron billionaire John Arnold thinks everyone should believe him when he says we've got to cut pensions because he's so incredibly rich: John...

Mar 5th
4:20 PM
Read More

More in David Sirota's continuing series on the billionaire takeover of PBS: More PBS conflict woes as activists move to eject David Koch from board of...

Mar 3rd
12:35 PM
Read More

Ukraine: One ‘Regime Change’ Too Many? ...by Ray McGovern www.michaelmoore.com Is “regime change” in Ukraine the bridge too far for the neoconservative...

Mar 2nd
9:25 PM
Read More

Latest from David Sirota on Enron billionaire John Arnold smuggling anti-pension propaganda into "neutral" institutions like PBS and now, the...

Mar 1st
12:58 PM
Read More

Subscribe to Mike's Blog RSS

Click here to suggest an article

Mike's Blog

See More Blogs

Vew the archives

View older articles