The Death Rattle for America's Unions?

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 11, 2012 | Go to article overview
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The Death Rattle for America's Unions?


Byline: sBy Sol Sanders, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Longer ago than I care to remember, I discussed the decline of the American labor movement with an old friend, a high AFL-CIO official and veteran of many a bitter organizing campaign, at the labor group's palatial 16th Street Washington headquarters. (Transparency alert: My mom, a 17-year-old Romanian Jewish immigrant, was an International Ladies Garment Workers Union shop steward in her shirtwaist sweatshop circa 1918, after losing seamstress friends in the 1911 Triangle Fire.)

In our rambling interchange, my pal hypothesized that the huge 1930 gains for organized labor resulted from three causes: government sponsorship (FDR's Wagner Act and the National Labor Relations Board), Socialists and Communists. He meant ideologically dedicated men and women willing to try to persuade blue-collar workingmen in an employers' market to band together to win wage hikes and better working conditions. (Ironically, President Obama just awarded the Medal of Freedom to Dolores Clara Fernandez Huerta, co-founder of a Mexican-American agricultural workers' union whose roots were in Socialists' failed efforts at organizing black Southern sharecroppers.) Their role was far from easy or safe. For example, the Reuther brothers, who inherited their German-born father's social democratic and trade unionist philosophy, were beaten, almost killed, by Henry Ford's hired goons before the United Auto Workers won certification.

That AFL-CIO conversation was not far from the offices of the NLRB, in the news recently for trying to force Boeing to halt South Carolina plant expansion to protect Washington state unionized workers but likely pushing even more subassembly work overseas. Nor were the events that unfolded in Wisconsin last week so distant. Pseudo-analysis spun by mainstream media pundits elevating notoriously inaccurate exit polling to analytical status has come up with theories for the result, though little hard evidence.

The spinners grabbed onto the poll results suggesting some voters were backing GOP Gov. Scott Walker because they were resentful of a recall not based on indictable malfeasance. One common-sense observer pointed out most Walker supporters, tired of election after election in the state, voted, walked to their cars, and went home. So exit pollsters were left to talk to activists. The pollsters claim even Walker supporters voiced pro-Obama sentiments for next November. Then why a presidential-size turnout? That prognostication well may be as wrong as the early exit polling predicting a close vote.

More important, Wisconsin's result must be seen in the context of the state's long history of radicalism.

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