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"Michigan at Risk: What Ever Happened to Organized Labor?"

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Hidden Stillness Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Sep-05-07 04:09 PM
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"Michigan at Risk: What Ever Happened to Organized Labor?"
The PBS series "Michigan at Risk" had a new episode on Tuesday evening, called "What Ever Happened to Organized Labor?" that presented a brief history of union activities in Michigan, with the great successes of the 1930s and the auto industry, to the modern, very dire situation of corporate/managerial globalism.

It was a very honest discussion of the issues and problems, pro-union but admitting the many errors and failings over the years, leading to some of the current lack of support and membership today--admitting, for example, the total lack of union support for women and women's issues, such as being forced out of all factory jobs at the end of WWII, lack of day care and unequal pay, discrimination itself, etc. There was a consideration of the tactics and leverage of the past--based on confronting management abuse of workers and suppression of wages, etc. with strikes, slowdowns, etc.--and the very basis of the power of the union, which was that these certified workers knew how to correctly do a skilled labor, and that there was a limited number of people who could do the work, and so each individual was needed, and had clout from their special position in the work force. Now, of course, the crushing tactics of management have largely sabotaged the bases of employee job-security, and with their ability now to move whole plants to other countries, outsource jobs there or here, re-align the corporate structure so that they can kill pensions or the union status of jobs, the unions have been blindsided by all this reorganization and law-change, and cannot fight back the old way, or at all.

The size of the corporation has changed, so that employees no longer deal with the sole proprietor at their single location, but now deal with layers and layers of unified, globalized, sometimes outsourced consultant/legal department/"Human Resources" middle management, that will replace them, (arranged and organized well ahead of time), by "replacement workers" or transfers from other stores or areas of operations. It reminded me of an extremely "successful," that is popular, strike at a Kroger supermarket around 1991, around southeast Michigan. There was so much customer support for the workers seeking a raise, that the stores had devastating losses, many stores had no sales at all for weeks at a time, they gave away produce for free to try to get people in the stores, there were many millions of dollars of corporate losses--and yet the store won and the striking workers lost and gained nothing. The Michigan Kroger stores were getting many millions of dollars for operating costs funneled to them by the general Kroger operation, which itself is a part of a larger corporate conglomeration, United Food Corp. or whatever it is. It is now a completely unfair fight, with no discernable limits on ownership or areas of the world that can be exploited by management. The small, local workplace of employees is now trying to fight a completely global organized operation; unlikely.

The program correctly pinpoints the moment when the capitalist oppressor seized the opportunity to mount a complete, crushing backlash against workers, killing a union, reworking labor law and deregulating corporate practice, as that moment when the bastard Ronald Reagan busted the air traffic controllers' PATCO union, replacing them, and passing many new laws that made it harder to form unions, and easier to punish people who tried to organize the workplace. The Detroit newpaper strike happened some years after, and the now merged papers destroyed the whole operation rather than deal equitably with the unions that were striking. You might remember the striker paper that was able to go on for a few years, the Sunday Journal, but which could not afford to keep publishing. Recall, also, that bastards such as Mitch Albom crossed the picket lines to grab their own jobs and damn to hell all the union workers.

The newer attempt by unions to cooperate whenever possible, and not always confront management, was focused on with an example involving health care costs, and the union at, I think it was, Michigan State University. Rather than fight a battle over reduced or protected health coverage for members, the two sides actually got together and shopped around for the best insurance and pharmaceutical coverage plans and cost, saving a lot of money and keeping coverage. Not everything is that easily solved, though, and the general tone of the program was of fear for the future, and increasing lack of solutions at all. The globalization of management's control, with no corresponding global worker union or legal rights, has made for an era as grim as the exploitive, completely unequal era just before the Great Depression. The program ended with the requisite hopeful tone, as unions rethink and readjust but to me there seemed little to hope for, as the noose tightens.

Some unions, such as the Nurses' union in California, have made great, powerful stands against the destruction of their working conditions and the safety of their patients, with great popular support, but few others have been able to fight the now worldwide pool of employees the abusive management can now turn to, and threaten workers here with. Wages are stagnant or falling, pensions are cut, defunded, or raided, jobs are reduced or outsourced, and corporate/stock profits are going up and up because of it. What is the solution for the problem of the decline of unions, and the lack of group protection for workers, as corporate management wins all battles now, to the death? This was a very interesting program with an informed, long-range persective on things, but the situation now is so new, so deregulated, that there seems no already paved path here at all, and prospects for the future of the middle class and poor, are bleak. This needs a solution.
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