George P. Shultz, who was secretary of state in the Reagan
administration, is concerned about the possible harm to American
industry and society stemming from the declining American labor
Now the recession is further weakening the trade union
movement, as always happens in slumps, with layoffs and employers'
demands for givebacks undermining the bargaining power and
organizing appeal of the unions.
"I go back to the old days in industrial relations," Shultz,
who started his career as an economist and labor-management
arbitrator, told the National Planning Association. "And I think of
two things that have come through to me as lessons."
The first, he said, is that in "a healthy workplace, it is very
important that there be some system of checks and balances." As an
economist, he recognizes that the labor market itself produces
checks and balances, as workers compete for jobs and management
competes for labor.
But in a society in which individual strength depends on
organizational connections, he thought there was still need for the
checks and balances that derive from "what used to be called the
system of industrial jurisprudence."
This covered the entire process of dispute settlement through
collective bargaining, grievance procedures, mediation and
arbitration, with the right to strike as a last resort.
The second lesson, Shultz said, is that "free societies and
free trade unions go together." It is no accident, he said, that
the first thing a dictator does is to get rid of the free trade
unions, if there are
"And it's not an accident," he added, "that a lot of the fire
for what happened in Eastern European countries came out of a trade
Societies that lack the kind of organization that will "really
get up on its hind legs and fight about freedom" are missing
He noted that in the American private business sector, trade
union membership was down to 12 percent of the labor force. Only
10.2 million workers of 84.6 million employed by private businesses
now are members of unions.
Government unions now have 6.5 million members of 17.8 million
employed by federal, state and local government; that is 36.5
percent of public employment compared with 12.1 percent of private
Total private and public union membership in this country is
down to 16.1 percent of employment from 34 percent in 1957 and 24
percent in 1973.
Concern about the shrinking size and role of organized labor in
the private sector was striking, coming from a man who has not only
held the top positions at State, Treasury, Labor and the Office of
Management and Budget in Republican administrations, but also has
been president of the Bechtel Group Inc. …