affirmative action and labor

Rakesh Bhandari bhandari at
Thu Nov 18 12:52:34 PST 1999

I heard that Doug was going to have Adolph on his radio show, and so emailed him this privately. But there are people on the list who surely have interesting things to say.

Having just skimmed a couple of chapters of Marc Linder's new Wars of Attrition: Vietnam, the Business Roundtable and the Decline of Construction Unions (Iowa City, Fanpihua Press, 1999), I wondered what Adolph would say about the the history of affirmative action struggles within the labor movement, now that affirmative action controversy is focused on admission to elite colleges and minority set asides.

What are we to make of Arthur Fletcher and Nixon's attempt via the Philadelphia Plan to challenge the monopolisation of the labor market by building trade unions through control of apprenticeship programs (esp. electricians, plumbers, carpenters)? Nixon seems to have given up on a serious effort but why was he motivated in the first place? Linder raises the possibilities: Anti racism (ha!ha!)? To take the attention off racist Southern textile companies? To lower wages in the face of labor shortage? To split the Democratic constituencies? To try to appear middle of the road after his opposition to busing?

And since Adolph is working closely with the union movement, I am wondering how serious he thinks the problem of the use of apprentice programs and other mechanisms to exclude blacks, other minorities and women from the more skilled trades remains--to the extent that unions still control access to some of these skilled trades? Can 'others' and (organized) skilled labor really get along?

More importantly, twenty years after the Philadelphia initiative, there has been spectacular success by business in achieving an expansion of the non union sector (Linder's history is that of the organization of the political movement behind it) in which one would have thought a greater percentage of cheaper black labor would be be used. So what are we to make of the fact, noted by Linder, that non union firms/open shops in which conditions are indeed miserable (the detail of the conditions he gives is most illuminating and disturbing) however employ even fewer blacks than their union competitors?

Yours, Rakesh

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