Union Democracy: Practice and Ideal: an Analysis of Four Large Local Unions

By Alice H. Cook | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Studies and Views of Democracy in Unions

THE questions of union democracy whether raised in Congress or by students of unionism have all too rarely included precise discussion of the content and the meaning of democracy in unions. Unionists themselves in defining the democratic quality of their established procedures cite the practices governed by majority vote of the members.1In many and various ways, they establish the existence of a majority, and it is behind the bulwarks of majority rule that they most often take up their positions in defense of the democracy of the trade unions. The Machinists recall their sixty-year experience with the referendum.2Most unions point to their local meetings as examples of the few remaining forms of the pure town meeting. The open election of union officers either at conventions or by individual ballot of the entire membership ascertains that the majority give their approval and support to the candidates, even though they may appear on a single list.3However rarely used, most union constitutions, moreover, include provisions for recall by which the majority may cut short unsatisfactory term of office. Similarly,

____________________
1
Grant McConnell, "Historical Traits and Union Democracy," Monthly Labor Review, vol. 81, no. 6 ( June 1958), p. 603. "The democratic tradition of trade unions is . . . founded primarily if not exclusively on the concept of majority rule," p. 637.
2
Mark Perlman, The Machinists ( Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1961), pp. 167-170.
3
The process of naming union officers is more nearly a referendum than an election, since an organized opposition rarely arises and rival candidates in national elections rarely appear.

-9-

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