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

By Alice H. Cook | Go to book overview

† CHAPTER 5 †
Local 300: Guided Democracy

OF ALL the practices important to the democratic government of an organization, none is more significant than membership participation in its affairs. Not only attendance at union meetings but the number, size, programs, and autonomy of committees are indices of organizational health and democracy. Local 300 was included in the present study in part because it was reputed to be--and the facts supported its reputation--a very model of membership activity. We shall look in some detail at how this high rate of activity is achieved, what forms it takes, and what it contributes to the running of the union. At the same time we shall look at the formal and informal government of the Local. This examination will reveal a paradox more common to private government than is often apparent in a cursory view of organizational activity. For what we shall find in Local 300 is a tightly organized oligarchy monopolizing the union's decision making, while a broadly based body of active members turns its wheels. It will be important to understand how this high rate of participation is generated and sustained, why it is possible to achieve it when the participants are largely disconnected from decision making, and what it contributes to the actual functioning of the union.


Setting

Local 300 was originally a craft union, with a history going back to the 1890's. Early in the thirties it began to broaden its jurisdiction to include workers in the manufacture of materials and products associated with the craft. An organizing drive carried by hundreds of activists from the original Local plunged into

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