The CIO Challenge to the AFL: A History of the American Labor Movement, 1935-1941

By Walter Galenson | Go to book overview

19
Some General Aspects of the Labor Movement

Membership

The measurement of trade union membership is beset with many pitfalls. There are not only mechanical problems involved in securing and processing data, but very thorny conceptual difficulties as well. The first problem need not concern us, but some attention must be devoted to the second in order that the figures which are presented below may be evaluated properly. 1

Unions regard as members, basically, those persons who maintain themselves in good standing by paying their dues regularly. But workers who are unemployed, underemployed, sick, on strike, on military leave, retired, or temporarily working as employers, may be exonerated from the payment of dues for specified periods without losing their good standing status. During an economic downswing, therefore, membership is apt to be overstated. Seasonal fluctuations in employment will also affect the membership data; two unions of equal size may report identical membership totals and yet receive varying amounts of dues, because of differences in the stability of employment.

There are situations in which unions are interested in exaggerating claimed membership. This is apt to be most true during their formative years, when they are seeking status, and during organizing campaigns, when they want to impress recalcitrant employers. Both these conditions prevailed in the case of most CIO unions during the nineteen-thirties, and therefore the public CIO membership statements must be regarded with great caution. Some of the newer CIO unions claimed as members workers for whom they bargained, without regard to actual membership, and it may be suspected that on occasion, they simply inflated membership claims without regard to underlying fact at all. On the other hand, it would be a mistake to define the true influence of the mass production unions as being coterminous with fully paid membership. The Steel Workers' Union, for example, dispensed

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