Power in Coalition: Strategies for Strong Unions and Social Change

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Industrial Relations Journal, Vol. An analytical framework has been developed in order to enhance our ability to interrogate and understand the critical factors for successful union—community coalitions. The framework is then tested on a single case study, a campaign run by trade unions, parents and community groups engaged in opposing academisation of their community school.

The framework helps structure analysis and aids evaluation of the impact of activists' choices on campaign outcomes. Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation.

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By continuing, you agree to the use of cookies. I would challenge labor opponents, such as those in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio and in the Republican-controlled House, to name a true democracy that does not have a labor movement participating in the debates on major public questions.

For example, the Nordic countries, where democracy and civic engagement thrive, have very strong unions, very low levels of inequality, and good economic growth. Canada, our neighbor and trading partner to the north, has strong unions including SEIU and a union density of above 30 percent — more than twice that of the United States.

Germany, as noted, has powerful trade unions and tough laws that give workers a strong voice in corporate decision-making.

Labor Unions: A Public Health Institution

Yet business thrives in these countries, and everyone benefits from unions and management working together for common goals. Voting in most states was restricted primarily to white property-owning males. Women, Native Americans and people of color both slave and free , and most wage earners had their civic participation severely restricted by law, as John Kretzschmar, director of the Brennan Institute for Labor Studies, has pointed out. Employers could form groups to advance their interests, but employees who did so by joining unions engaged in illegal behavior.

Over time, wage earners who were not property holders agitated and often got voting rights; workers also began fighting for expanded rights on economic matters. Unions remained illegal conspiracies in many jurisdictions until the s. As unemployment rose to 25 percent by , a series of laws were passed that helped unions. Supreme Court quickly deemed the prolabor legislation unconstitutional, the Wagner Act passed by Congress in led to expanded union organizing in the years that followed. By the end of World War II in , union membership rose to more than Opponents of the legislation pointed out that it had been drafted not by Congress, but by corporate lawyers working for the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.

Despite the setback of Taft-Hartley in the United States, there remained a broad and global consensus that labor was an important component of democracy. The Nazi party viewed unions as a threat, and in Hitler seized funds of German unions, arrested labor leaders, sent them to concentration camps, and replaced collective bargaining. After World War II, a consensus emerged that unions were crucial to democratic societies as wartorn nations sought to rebuild.

Japan had abolished unions, but General MacArthur and the Allies restored them in Most significant from the standpoint of civil engagement was the discussion and adoption, with U. The declaration is widely viewed as a central pillar of international human rights law. It spells out a range of rights to which every individual is entitled, including the rights to life, liberty, equality of treatment before the law, freedom of movement, right to own property, freedom of thought and religion, freedom of expression, and many others.

The global concurrence about the right to form and join unions was further solidified by what are commonly referred to as Core Labor Standards, a set of four internationally recognized basic rights and principles that countries have agreed to follow. They are: freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively; the elimination of forced labor; abolition of child labor; and the elimination of discrimination in employment.

The discussion of unions and civil society expanded significantly as workers in Eastern Europe struggled for democracy. Walesa and the Solidarnosc union movement went on to topple the repressive regime in Poland. President Reagan and many on the political right embraced the Solidarnosc union very publicly and repeatedly. The bizarre affection the right has for unions abroad but not at home could be seen yet again in late during the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.


The civic role played by unions threatened those in power not only in Eastern Europe, but also elsewhere in the world. The ruling elites in El Salvador in the s were complicit in the killing of trade unionists; tens of thousands died at the hands of military-backed death squads. Under apartheid rule in South Africa, independent black trade unions developed negotiating and organizing skills, despite suffering torture and death.

Lula da Silva, the thirty-fifth president of Brazil, is another example of the important leadership roles unionists have played in building civil society globally. Lula led strikes during the late s and was jailed by the military junta. The skills he honed in the union movement enabled him to go on to become president of his country. The crucial role that unions have played in Brazil, South Africa, and other countries — from South Korea to Germany — contrasts with the United States, where the voices of corporations and their political allies in the 1 percent have dominated public debate in recent years.

This has occurred for a confluence of reasons, but it is important for labor to take a hard look at itself and accelerate the process of change if workers are to play a significant role in shifting the status quo toward progressive outcomes. Just as unions in other countries have evolved to address tough challenges, so, too, must American unions adapt and change.

A similar show of public support for unions could be seen in California when voters rejected Proposition 32, which was backed by the antiunion Koch brothers Charles and David.

Shani Tager, Friends of the Earth

Nevertheless, many middle-class Americans have mixed views on unions, and some feel strongly negative. Much of the hostility toward labor is driven by the relentless antiunion drumbeat of the right wing as well as corporate America. Let me focus briefly on a few of the issues that have fed negativity toward labor. First, while unions have a lower rate of corruption than that found in either business or government, there still is a need for strong efforts by unions to root out wrongdoing within their own ranks. Six years later, James R.

Hoffa, who had led the Teamsters union from to , went missing near Detroit never to be found — presumably murdered by organized crime elements opposed to his regaining power within the union. Unions, as institutions with millions of members, are not immune to wrongdoing. During my tenure at SEIU, I had to trustee a large local in Los Angeles and permanently ban from membership a member of our International Executive Board after evidence emerged that he had misused member funds.

In response, we established a Commission on Ethics and Standards and named outside authorities to it, such as James Zazzali, former Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, as well as rank-and-file members and local union leaders. I think, too, of the case of Barbara Bullock, the former president of the Washington, D.

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Her actions unfairly tarred D. Many who urge education reform are people of good faith; but some, such as the antiunion Walton family, who owns Wal-Mart, and Michelle Rhee, former D. Improving education in America involves developing and supporting our teachers, not constantly attacking them.

A study released in found that teacher morale in the United States was at a twenty-year low. Attacks by those like the Waltons and Michelle Rhee serve only to prevent a climate in which teachers, school administrators, parents, and others can work together to build a more effective student-centered educational system and mobilize to win adequate funding for public education.

It is far harder to shift the focus to innovative labor-management partnerships, such as those in Cincinnati, Oklahoma City, and Pittsburgh, where students are benefiting from teachers and school administrators working together to transform schools servicing primarily low-income communities. The Washington Post, to its credit, last year highlighted the success of the Montgomery County MD Education Association, which has worked cooperatively with the school system there to win a role in personnel decisions, teacher training, and budget decisions.

Power in Coalition: Strategies for strong unions and social change - Amanda Tattersall - كتب Google

School employees voluntarily gave up scheduled raises in the last three years to help cope with the budget crisis in the aftermath of the economic downturn, yet the union has protected important health and pension benefits highly valued by its members. Newark teachers will have a seat at the table evaluating one another, and the contract empowers a majority of teachers in any school with authority to decide issues such as how to adapt school schedules or how to use training and preparation time as they deem in the best interests of their students.

Public employees face a challenge similar to teachers. Again, much of the attack on public workers is driven by forces strongly hostile to unions. Louis who receive large disability pensions for being totally and permanently incapacitated, yet who go on to work at new jobs involving physical labor while collecting those pensions. But the backlash to the huge payouts in California clearly hurt public unions and played into the political narrative orchestrated by those whose primary goal is to weaken labor.

Public employee unions needed over the years to break out from the narrow constraints of traditional collective bargaining and negotiate instead not only for wages and benefits, but also for the delivery of high-quality public services. Management usually resisted such efforts, but public worker unions are gaining citizen support by partnering with government to improve public services. Citizens often are frustrated by inefficiencies and bureaucracy and need to see public workers siding with them in the effort to have services delivered better and at fair cost.

Yet another problem unions must confront is the need for greater racial, ethnic, and gender diversity in the labor movement. Looking back in history, African Americans had to fight to join unions, and many American Federation of Labor AFL unions in their early years barred blacks from membership, particularly in the crafts.

My own union, SEIU, by contrast brought together white and black janitors in Chicago in the early s and, indeed, had an elected vice president and three executive board members who were African Americans. By the s, the Congress of Industrial Organizations CIO , made up of industrial unions, aggressively recruited black members and became an important force for desegregation and antidiscrimination before many other segments of American society.

In the s, African Americans made up about 25 percent of U. But at the same time, unions such as the UAW and SEIU embraced the civil rights movement, fought racism in the workplace, and joined in the push for antidiscrimination legislation. Unions helped organize the Montgomery bus boycott, joined the Selma to Montgomery march in force, and worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Given their mixed record through the years, unions today need to face the challenge of becoming more diverse throughout their leadership, from local unions to the very top positions.

A concerted effort was made to reflect that in our leadership, and by we had an executive board that was 40 percent women and 33 percent people of color. But there is so much more that needs to be done in this area.

Power in Coalition — Strategies for Strong Unions and Social Change – By Amanda Tattersall

Unfortunately, many other unions do not do as well at reflecting the diversity of their memberships. If labor is to prosper in the decades ahead, all unions must do a far better job of developing multicultural leadership that is more inclusive of women and people of color. We need more people like Mother Jones and A. Philip Randoph. As part of the broad effort for gender and racial equity, labor needs to embrace the movement for immigrant rights more vigorously than it has so far. America needs comprehensive immigration reform that provides a meaningful legal path to citizenship for undocumented workers.

In the past, unfortunately, some unions saw immigrants from Mexico and Central America as threats to their jobs and mistakenly supported bad immigration policies. Today labor is united in pushing for immigrant rights and works closely with grassroots coalitions of religious and community groups both for changes in federal law and also in opposition to racist and reactionary laws recently enacted in states such as Arizona and Alabama.