Man, Work, and Society: A Reader in the Sociology of Occupations

By Sigmund Nosow; William H. Form | Go to book overview

5. WHY WHITE-COLLAR WORKERS CAN'T BE ORGANIZED · Dick Bruner

I am a union organizer and I have recently been assigned the job of organizing white-collar workers in my district. I believe in this cause, but I think it is almost hopeless at the present time. I write anonymously† --if I didn't I would be fired--because many union officials will regard what I have to say as treason.

If the unions were willing to recognize that they are now facing the most acute crisis since the great organizing days of the 1930's--and if they were willing to re-examine their obsolete assumptions about human behavior--I think they would have a chance to tap the great reserves of the white-collar workers. Incidentally, they would save themselves and recapture leadership of the American working people; and the American people badly need that leadership. But I see no strong signs that the unions are ready to wake up.

The American labor movement is going all-out to organize white- collar workers--so much so that the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Department last December held a major conference in Washington on "Problems of the White-Collar Worker." But I doubt that the average white-collar man or woman has any idea of the power he could exercise, or, ironically, any realization that he is now, in the words of Walter Reuther, "on the short end . . . of the actual take-home pay proposition."

The past decade has seen a revolutionary shift in occupations. With automation and other technological improvements gobbling up jobs that used to be held by production and maintenance workers--and thus reducing membership in unions--and with an ever-increasing emphasis in our society on selling, unions are looking hungrily at the legions who work behind counters, desks, and typewriters--as potential recruits for the labor movement. They have reconsidered what at one time seemed impossible and now they think the possibilities are limitless.

I believe, however, that the labor movement will not have any more than token success in bringing them into unions. The overwhelming majority of salesmen, typists, file clerks, and professionals will not join because they consider it beneath their dignity, because they feel differently from blue-collar workers about their jobs and their status, because they are afraid it will hurt their advancement, and because the face of the labor movement seems to them crude and exploitative.

†EDITORS' NOTE. This article was later reprinted; at that time the author decided to reveal his identity.

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