On July 3rd, we posted Part II of Nick Unger’s series on union structures, labor history and union member consciousness. As with the first installment, the responses have been rolling in. Here’s a sampling:
From Martin Morand, Professor Emeritus, Industrial and Labor Relations, Indiana University of Pennsylvania:
Nick is painfully correct — as far as he has gone. Since he promises, “Glimpses of new possibilities that might make one less forlorn,” my cavils may be premature. But, “fools rush in…”
As critique this is brilliant — painfully so. Until I see the “new possibilities,” I remain forlorn. As with Occupy, it exposes and labels the enemy without quite providing a solution. Continue reading Response to Nick Unger’s “Unions as Consciousness Builders – Part 2”
By Nick Unger
Why would one expect American unions to foster a broad insurgent culture? The legal framework, political and organizational for today’s unions goes back almost 80 years. It has always encouraged a culture of accommodation with the needs of production, output and efficiency and discouraged a broad insurgent culture of conflict, turmoil and disruption.
The Wagner Act strictures were not imposed on labor but rather demanded by it. The AFL in the 1930’s was not looking for social conflict and industrial strife but for stabilization. The CIO was looking for the same thing, institutional standing for unions, though they were willing to use disruption as a tactic to get it. The New Deal gave labor what it asked for, institutional protection. Labor gave the New Deal leaders what they needed in return; relatively stable production.
Unions viewed the Wagner Act as a fundamental pillar of American society, almost on the level of the Bill of Rights, like Social Security. Unions were here to stay this time. Public sector unionism’s growth comes from the post-World War 2 expansion of America’s version of a welfare state. Unions treated both the welfare state and the unions of workers who administer it as permanent features of American society more than as contested terrain. Union structures made responding to the growing contest over the terrain more difficult. Continue reading Another go-round on Unions as Consciousness Builders – Part 2: Hello & Goodbye with Far too little In Between
Last week we posted a piece from Nick Unger about union structures, labor history and union member consciousness. Below, you can find seven responses from readers of The Murphy Institute Blog. Stay tuned for Part 2 of Nick Unger’s Series, coming soon.
From Gene Carroll at The Worker Institute at Cornell
A few years back Rutgers professor Janice Fine expressed to a forum on worker centers that “labor unions are difficult to join.” Nick Unger’s deconstruction of the Wagner Act’s impact on working class mobilization and consciousness reminded me of her keen insight. The new forms of labor organizations that have emerged (worker centers, alt. labor) with some support from but still largely independent of traditional unions, is one result of, and a reaction to, how the Wagner Act has painted unions into a corner…structurally and vision-wise. How do we make these new organizational forms sustainable without actual collective bargaining contracts and its benefits, which exist alongside of the internal contractions Nick explores? How can labor’s new forms of leverage help unions to become much less difficult to join? What is the relationshiop between the previous two questions? Thank you, brother Unger, for sharing your thinking labor.
Continue reading Readers Responses to: Thoughts on Union Structures, Labor History And Union Member Consciousness
By Nick Unger
“Insurgent movements are not the product of hard times; they are the product of insurgent cultures.” Lawrence Goodwyn, The Populist Moment
The generation that builds it really gets it; they were there. But what of those who come later? How do they get the word? This is not a problem unique to unions. Tribes, religions, nationalities and countries, gangs, armies and political groups, all need transmission structures, creation stories and rituals to solidify identity and make membership a cultural force.
Two rival acculturation paths: education/indoctrination and periodic upheaval. The Jesuits, the medieval guild and 19th century British education systems represent the institutional approach: “Give me a child until he is seven and I’ll give you the man.” Building trades union apprenticeship programs are perhaps the best labor example of this approach to development of a distinct identity and culture. Continue reading Thoughts on Union Structures, Labor History And Union Member Consciousness