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March 02, 2005


Your analysis of the airlines is wrong and Stern is right. The airline unions failed to take an active role in corporate governance - even and most stupidly in the case of United where they owned the damn company. By allowing airlines that had huge financial obligations to the unions to go enormously into debt on insane buying sprees and to otherwise endanger the unions jobs and money, the unions defaulted their responsibility to their workers. And the same goes for their insistence on antiquated rules and their go-it-alone policies - as if airline pilots could insulate themselves from devastation of the mechanics unions or the collapse of the companies. Unions can no longer leave management up to the managers - because the managers don't give a shit about the long term progress of the company or about their workers and in many companies, management is totally clueless anyways.

I'm looking for reasons to be optimistic about labor movement gaining sufficient strength to become a heavyweight national player again, but I can't find any. I can imagine slight growth at the margins at best. We would need the Federal gov't to ease organizing, and the mass political pressure for that seems nonexistant outside of activist circles. Who's going to successfully organize in right to work states? But the deeper problem is political cynicism and ignorance on behalf of citizens (i.e. potential members) and the deep pockets of the other side. They fight unions as effectively as they fight candidate races.

I believe the progressive movement and the Democratic party can and will move forward regardless of whether labor recaptures some ground. In the meantime, beware of journalists' warnings to the effect of, "Democrats' chances of rebuilding a majority depend on labor."

The SEIU has a very strong advantage that only a few unions have. It is very difficult to export the job of someone who is changing diapers in a skilled nursinf facility. That allows Stern to take much different paths that other union leaders don't have open to them.
I was struck by the fact that every single politician that handed his union the keys to victory was a strong democrat. Why then the talk of walking out on the democrats?


United was owned by its employees, and it went bankrupt. I'm not an expert on the airline industry, but my point is that by his comments, Andy Stern revealed that he isn't either. Nonetheless, he's criticizing losses of jobs and blaming it on labor, as to some extent you are here. I mean, what did labor have to do with those management decisions? Could they have prevented all of them? Maybe some, but probably not a lot. One thing I do know about, being here in SE Michigan, is that Northwest and the Machinists at one point were something like two years past the expiration of their contract. Also, did labor have anything to do with 9-11, or the huge spike in fuel costs over the last few years? It's a lot more complicated than Stern indicates, and it's unfair of him to blame labor for something with far more causal factors than Tom Buffenbarger's jet.

Crab: You make some good points, but don't write the eulogy yet, especially in terms of electoral politics. I'm in a state where about 40% of all voters come from union households, and they vote Democratic about 2-1. We're at the extreme in that regard, but labor is a huge factor in almost all the non-right to work states, and they're important in some of RTW states like IA and especially NV. I asked Stern about taking the fight to the right by pushing voter initiatives to change a state or two from right to work to closed shop, and he said there has been talk about trying that in NV, where the culinary workers (HERE), through their dominance of LV casinos, are incredibly powerful, and might be able to succesfully push such a measure.

Dan: DAMN, I forgot to make that point about jobs moving. You are 100% correct, and it's one of my biggest problems with Stern. He's an incredibly bright, innovative and successful labor leader, but he strikes me a bit like the owner of a pro football team excoriating the owner of a pro baseball team for not exactly following his business strategy. Sure, they're both pro sports teams, but there are a ton of differences. Sure, there are things the other folks can learn from Stern, but he doesn't seem to me to give enough credit to the different forces other unions face in their sectors.

"Note to Matt Bai and all other journalists and editors: democratically elected union presidents are labor leaders not 'labor bosses'"

I don't think Andy Stern was elected in 1996 by the *general membership* of the SEIU. Also, in other unions, such as UFCW 588 in California recently, local presidencies get passed from father to son without benefit of an election, or from one insider to another. It's a common practice for a president to step down before his term is up, so a chosen successor can run as an incumbant in the next election. There's a way to go on the democracy front.

The answer is that labor didn't think it needed to get involved in management decisions - but it does. The old school unions think that they can just demand (now beg for) jobs. But in globalization and dumbass mba-ization of corporations requires them to actively intervene. When United went begging to the unions for money, did they get some actual management control? Did they insist on a debt structure that would make it impossible to liquidate pensions to pay off the banks? Any union that does not actively consider what it can do to create jobs for its workers and gain some measure of control over the companies that it organizes is just setting itself up to be fucked. There has to be a known answer to "why should XYZ Company not move jobs to China" and "what prevents XYZ management from looting the company and leaving us with the ruins".

DH - as I understand it, there may be a serious push for a fare share bill in NV this year. Apparently, the unions have gotten a number of GOP legislators on board, as well as the GOP Lieutenant Governor.

DHinMI needs to disclose his past paid political work.

DHinMI's arguments here are weakened by a failure to grasp the big picture.

DHinMI scoffs at Stern's willingness to look at how Stephen Moore, Norquist, and the Club for Growth move their issues. According the DHinMI, the Club for Growth is ineffective because the candidates it backs don't win their elections.

But that's not the point. Their candidates might lose, but they win spectacular victories on their issues -- forcing the party to move in their direction.

Arlen Spector won his primary, but meanwhile the GOP has pushed through massive tax cuts that shift the burden of maintaining America onto working people.

I would take tangible policy gains over electoral wins any day.

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