Magazine article Dissent

Collective Bargaining 3.0

Magazine article Dissent

Collective Bargaining 3.0

Article excerpt

The first lesson network leaders learn in the Jobs With Justice training is never give your power away. While easier said in a workshop than in the North Carolina General Assembly, it does compel us to remember how change happens. While we need labor law reform, we should not wait for it to build a movement to expand the scale and scope of collective bargaining. Early industrial unions were bargaining long before the Wagner Act codified the practice, leveraging their ability to halt production when necessary. Only through exercising their power, and even breaking some rules, were they able to win the legal protections to back up workers' ability to bargain equally with employers.

The Wagner Act was a good start-including the creation of the National Labor Relations Board which, when funded, protects workers from employer abuse. It provided a roadmap for millions of workers to bargain-opening up pathways to home ownership, retirement security, vacation time, and other benefits. But while providing massive gains for some, it ultimately left workers vulnerable to the whims of multi-national companies and their political allies who spent the last half century negotiating each victory away with the slow-and-steady persistence of a melting glacier. In a recent article for the American Prospect, Lane Windham of Penn State University adds, "in depending on unions to do the negotiating for a social wage, the U.S. had inadvertently given employers in the U.S. a higher incentive than employers in other nations to fight union organizing."

And fight they have! The corporate class attacked the very power that makes workers equal at the bargaining table-regardless of whether they are attacking a union or a worker center. The Taft-Hartley Act was the first well-known blow, prohibiting jurisdictional strikes, wildcat strikes, solidarity or political strikes, secondary boycotts, secondary and mass picketing, and more. States could pass right-to-work laws, gutting union membership first in the South, and later throughout the country. Riding this legacy, Scott Walker and the Koch Brothers would have us believe collective bargaining is in its final death throes.

In its current form, it may be.

Recently, the Chamber of Commerce released a series of reports attempting to categorize worker centers as unions-not so they can bargain better but so their activities could be restricted. Addressing what rules should govern worker centers, Jarol B. Manheim of George Washington University wrote, "The answer has implications for labor and management alike, for it will determine the limits and extent of activities in which these centers can legitimately participate, and the ways and extent to which the laws and regulations governing labor-management relations in the US apply to them."

Manheim's report demonstrates the root desire of labor opponents to dismantle the right to collective bargaining. Therefore before reforming labor law to simply "include" everyone, worker organizations should first focus on modeling collective bargaining 3.0. The definition of collective bargaining, in our minds and our organizing, must be expanded to meet the context of the modern-day worker and the economy she functions in regardless of what the law says. In a world where jobs long considered safe career paths are contracted and sub-contracted out, our campaigns must be organized differently. Our best weapon to combat wealth inequality is still a strong union contract. …

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