NEW YORK - Six thousand flight attendants strike Trans World
Airlines. The strike is broken by hiring new workers, and 4,400
attendants lose their jobs with little complaint from other
The American Telephone and Telegraph Co. is struck by 150,000
communications workers, but service continues with little disruption,
with supervisors filling in and new workers hired to replace
Fifteen hundred meatpackers strike Geo. A. Hormel & Co. in
Austin, Minn. The parent union, infuriated by tactics, places the
local in trusteeship, asking workers to renounce the strike.
How long has it been since things looked so dismal for unions?
Plants continue to close. Bargaining on management demands for
concessions continues. The willingness of companies to hire
employees to take strikers' jobs weakens strikes, as at TWA and AT&T,
and computer technologies mean work can often be performed
automatically, also weakening strikes, as at AT&T.
In 1981 more than 11,000 air traffic controllers were dismissed
for their strike, which was illegal, and numerous strikes since have
been lost or ended with employees returning to work largely on
""The labor movement is taking it on the chin like it hasn't since
the early 1920s,'' Ronald Schatz, associate professor of history at
Wesleyan University, said this week.
""Anti-unionism in the country is phenomenal,'' said Robert
Schrank, a private work consultant formerly with the Ford Foundation.
Often little solidarity exists, as demonstrated by the fighting
between the Hormel meatpackers and their parent union.
Examples exist of imaginative, vigilant trade unionism: strikes;
aggressive activities in place of strikes, like those in the plant
where unions conduct legal actions and perhaps work slowdowns to
press demands but insure that workers receive income; alliances of
unionists to fight plant closings and lobby for a national
""superfund'' to provide income for displaced workers who wish to
Yet, at many unions life goes on as though memberships were not
plummeting and as though labor's image was not poor.
Audrey Freedman, labor economist with the Conference Board, a
business research organization of New York, cites these causes of
difficulties for unions: deregulation; a national Administration
often not sympathetic to union views; company views that costs of
wages, benefits, and often inefficient work rules must be reduced.
Schatz saw different reasons for decline in labor strength.
He said the relationship often worked out by unions, companies and
the government in the decades after World War II - some called this a
""social compact'' - was breaking down.
Under this relationship, expanding productivity and domination by
U.S. companies would insure rising wages and benefits, he explained.
Unions would moderate militant activity to gain increasing wages
and benefits, he said. Many union leaders tightly allied themselves
with the Democratic Party, putting ""all the eggs in the political
basket,'' he went on, often to the detriment of organizing and other
vigorous activities. …