Contemporary Unionism in the United States

By Clyde E. Dankert | Go to book overview

12
Union Composition and Membership

AS A RULE unions are keenly interested in the matter of size. They are desirous of increasing their membership, believing that in numbers there is strength. At the same time, however, they are not willing to take into their membership everyone who applies. To be admitted into a union a person must ordinarily possess certain qualifications. These qualifications are generally reasonable ones, although in some instances, as we shall see shortly, they are of such a character that they cannot be met.1


Membership Control

Practically all nationals and internationals set forth in their constitutions certain rules or requirements concerning membership in their constituent locals. But these written rules and regulations do not indicate the full extent of membership control, for a number of reasons.

For one thing, the constitutional requirements may be supplemented by unwritten "laws"--conventions of the constitution, they might be called--which may be of a restrictive nature. For instance, before 1938 it was an unwritten policy with the locals of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees' union to exclude Asiatics from membership. Again, membership may be restricted through union ritual. This means has been used by the Machinists' union to exclude Negroes. Sometimes local unions, possibly with the connivance if not the consent of their parent organizations, exercise restrictive control or other types of membership discrimination. Thus, in some of the building trades' unions Negro workers are either excluded completely or are organized into separate locals despite the fact that the constitutions of the parent bodies make no such provision. On the other hand, local unions may sometimes discard the policy of discrimination even though the constitution of the parent body provides for it.

The full extent of union membership control, it is clear, cannot be gauged accurately from union constitutions. There may be a significant difference

____________________
1
An extensive study of the general subject matter of the present chapter is contained in Clyde M. Summers' article on "Admission Policies of Labor Unions," in The Quarterly Journal of Economics, November, 1946, pp. 66-107. An earlier treatment will be found in Chapter 6 of Handbook of American Trade-Unions, 1936 edition, Bulletin No. 618, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

-185-

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