Overtime (was Re: happy autoworkers)

Carrol Cox cbcox at rs6000.cmp.ilstu.edu
Sun Jul 12 16:56:28 PDT 1998

Michael E. replies to Maggie on Unions (my comments at end):

> Maggie,
> I have regularly read your contributions to this list with anticipation and
> the expectation that I would find a thoughtful, well-reasoned, and
> critically analytical as well as uniquely insightful message. I have been
> rarely disappointed, even when I disagreed. While I agree with some of your
> particular criticisms here of unions, I find it is peppered with erroneous
> factual information and some weak arguments. Rather than enter into a
> wide-ranging response, I will address those particular points where I think
> you do a disservice to your own arguments and in some cases to the
> historical record. My comments are interspersed within yours.
> Michael E.
> At 11:59 AM 7/12/98 EDT, MScoleman at aol.com wrote:
> >Phew, something we completely agree on. Generally the BIGGEST failure of
> >unions in this country is the inability to organize people outside heavy
> >industry -- and IMHO the reasons for this failure fall into two broad
> >categories:
> >
> >1. The physical organization of unions in the AFL/CIO do not accomodate
> >themselves to the new workplace.
> >2. The ideology of unionism in this country has a cultural/social tradition
> >which does not match the cultural/social traditions of the current workforce.
> .....
> There are
> >two primary union traditions.
> Actually there are more than two and many hybrids in between them. Company
> unionism (welfare capitalism, etc.) is a long-standing tradition of worker

> > Finally getting back to point 1, the ideology of afl/cio unions
> >coupled with organizational forms has led to a complete lack of new
> >organizing. While women are THE ONLY GROWING SECTOR of unionism in the USA --
> Not so, union membership among Latinos and other immigrants has been a
> growth area, and Black workers are more likely to vote for a union than
> nearly any other group of workers. Women membership has grown in no small
> part as a consequence of the growth of public sector unionism and education,

they don't recognize clerical work as a skilled form of labor, most
> >unions are still basically anti-female, and unions are not attached to a
> >community ideology which seeks to place a positive face on unions for female
> >jobs.
> I think you miss something more important than the level of sexism with
> respect to the attitudes of male union leaders toward the value of women's
> work. Unions don't organize in these sectors a) because they are not
> organizing generally; b) [SNIP]

> > in short, both the ideological and organizational problems of
> >unions need to be addressed to revitalize the union movement in this country
> >-- the belly of the beast of capitalism. Given all the problems, unions are
> >still the only organizational form which can best represent worker interests.
> >maggie coleman mscoleman at aol.com
> On your final point, we have no disagreement. Whatever their deficiencies,
> and they are many, unions are the single greatest source of potential power
> in the lives of almost all workers. What remains is for us to struggle in
> ways that get them to fulfill that potential.
> In solidarity,
> Michael

Michael, I could say to you as you say to Maggie, "I have regularly read your contributions to this list with anticipation and the expectation that I would find a thoughtful, well-reasoned, and critically analytical as well as uniquely insightful message. I have been rarely disappointed, even when I disagreed."

But this post puzzles me a bit. I rather think most of what you say is quite accurate -- much of it, in fact, I have said myself on one or another occasion -- and I rather suspect Maggie herself knows practically everything you have pointed out. (She did say, did she not, that she was well aware that her post deliberately left out much that it would take many pages to develop?) What puzzles me is how it adds, for present purposes, anything to the point. All this empirical detail, and all this qualification upon qualification of broad generalizations needs to be part of our general baggage in this movement. But surely, if we want to explore seriously the final points upon which you say you agree perfectly with Maggie, then her original summary is a far more useful *starting point* than your more detailed expansion and qualification.

Sometimes we need factuality, huge pyramids of facts. We always need as much accurate empirical material IN THE BACKGROUND as possible.

But sometimes we need a bit more focus, less rehashing of all the details and of alll the qualifications to the qualifications. Sometimes we can get lost in factuality. And I would like to know how, in thinking (on this list) about the tasks of leftists in respect to the current state of labor unions, your lengthy exposition is any better (for it seems to me much worse) than a more focused (though naturally, then, less empirically accurate) account such as Maggie offered.

Whatever the various qualifications; whatever the various stops and starts of the last 100 years, is it not still flatly true that the leadership of today's unions, a leadership under present conditions completely beyond the control of the membership, will not endanger their own positions by seriously fighting for democracy within their unions, a fight which would have to be grounded in a fight against sexist and racist domination.

A few weeks ago some motherfucker who works on the line at Mitsubishi wrote a long letter to the local paper regretting that the company had been fined for encouraging sexual harassment and suggesting that the Company had been unfairly punished for not stopping what it could not have know was happening ... and so on and so on through all the usual sexist bullshit and what has to be deliberate and self-conscious lying on the part of the writer -- lies which he could not have gotten away with unless most of his "mates" in the plant (either gender) were not either in agreement with him or had been sufficiently terrorized so that they dared not object. Anyone who lives in Bloomington/Normal Illinois, unless he/she is deliberately ignorant, knows that conditons there at Mitsubishi, and with respect to race as well as gender, were not far worse than was ever claimed in the cases against them.

A union that wanted to even pretend to be serious about organizing blacks and women (who continue to flock to it despite its racism and sexism: women and blacks being so much more class conscious than most white males) would have to start (among other places) by launching a public attack on the local union and forcing the members there to answer that old question: Which side are you on? You either have to be a thug for Mitsubishi or a defender of black and female employers there.

How dare the UAW boast about organizing clerical workers at Columbia Univ. when it is allowing such shit to go down here in Central Illinois?


(P.S. I have a feeling that this post is a bit rambling and unfocused -- but part of my complaint about your post is that it encourages rambling in others rather than (as does Maggie's) a focus on the core.)

(P.S. 2: Why don't you independently of responding to particular posts, give us a series of posts like this. I would not object to it, in fact would delight in it, if it were just a post in labor history, rather than what seems to me to be a blurring of Maggie's argument.)

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