Reviving Labor

Article excerpt

"What Are Scholars Telling the U.S. Labor Movement to Do?" by Bruce Nissen, in Labor History (May 2003), Taylor & Francis Ltd., Rankine Rd., Basingstoke RG24 8PR, United Kingdom; "An Immodest Proposal: Remodeling the House of Labor" by Stephen Lerner, in New Labor Forum (Summer 2003), 25 W. 43rd St., 19th fl., New York, N.Y. 10036.

To get back on its feet after decades of decline, should organized labor: (a) adopt "value-added unionism" or (b) embrace "social movement unionism"? Answer: "b," says Nissen, director of research at the Center for Labor Research and Studies, Florida International University. Lerner, director of building services for the Service Employees International Union, doesn't disagree, but offers yet another prescription: Labor should (c) start thinking big and restructure itself.

Advocates of value-added unionism urge unions to stop being their old adversarial selves and actively work to help employers meet their business goals, exerting influence within corporate management. The partnership between Harley-Davidson and its two main unions is an oft-cited example of the win-win situation that can result. But value-added unionism has "limited applicability," says Nissen, because few corporations are willing to give unions a role in management.

Nissen sees more promise in social movement unionism, in which unions make their cause part of a larger struggle for social justice and against corporate domination and greed, seeking allies and inspiration in civil rights, feminism, environmentalism, and other movements. …

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