America's Labor Movement... or is it Labor Inertia?

The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

Pseudo-Liberal America, from DLC “centrists” to “progressive” Democrats, is becoming hysterically afraid that the current breakup in labor ranks will lead to an early disappearance of organized labor, or at least its influence, resulting in the eventual political capitulation of the nation to a one-party system: the GOP. So long to the tweedledum-tweedledee political duopoly Americans are so proud of!

Which brings us to the question… is there real turbulence in the Labor Movement?

Movement… what “movement”? There hasn’t been any blood flow in American union veins for decades… and one could make the sweeping statement that there has been total and complete “labor inertia” since the 70’s. Both the Berlin Wall and trade unions [in the private sector] crumbled during the 80’s, not because of Ronald Reagan… although his admirers quickly pin a pair of ribbons to his mythical accomplishments’ chest; but, in great part, because of the built-in ineptness in both communism and organized labor’s leadership.

Going back to that decade of the 80’s, I can’t help but recall the total lack of vision in organized labor’s bigwigs. In my role representing management during labor contract negotiations, it is with sadness, not pride, that I remember dictating, not negotiating, contract terms. It was the beginning of the end… the “take it or leave it” attitude that management was free to take, particularly in companies that were part of the then called “declining industries,” such as footwear, foundries and many others which in sum total represented over one-half of the nation’s manufacturing base.

It was evident to many of us then, and clearly obvious to just about everyone now, that the top echelons in the union leadership of the AFL-CIO lacked the “squint-essential” vision to prepare for the oncoming economic “globalization.” The union rank and file in the private sector was paying dues, and continues to do so, to a union stewardship that has done next to nothing to stop the long queue forming outside the union-job slaughterhouse. Incompetent and/or derelict in their duties, the end result for those in charge spelled lamentable consequences for the economic future of America’s working middle class. Why?

The American economy has faced the same set of problems in adapting to this globalization as any other first-world, industrial nation… in a scale commensurate to the size of its economy. And so has American labor. Why is it, then, that US labor is suffering much more than its counterparts in the First World, specifically the EU and Japan ? Why is the negative impact, the loss of living-wage jobs, so much greater proportionately in the US than in other nations with comparable living standards?

We should know the answer to that, and should have known it all along. American labor has always been the step-child in the economic triad of Capital, Technology and Labor. Labor’s only logical advocacy for its success- or even its survival, unionization, has never found solid acceptance in the US… unlike the labor movements in other developed nations. The combined 25-nation EU labor force has twice the percentage in union membership as the US (26% vs. 13% for the US ) and the difference in the private sector is even more dramatic (20% vs. 8% for the US ). For all practical purposes, outside of government employees (federal, state and local) who are over 37% unionized, the rest of the union and non-union labor scratching a living in the private sector has little power, and certainly a total lack of political representation in Washington.

There appears to be a direct correlation between the level (%) of union membership in a nation and the economic well-being and dignity in the nation’s labor force… at least in the context of free or non-totalitarian nations. That becomes the basis for the size in the economic gap existing between haves and have-nots.

It will be interesting to follow the path(s) that the SEIU, Teamsters, UFCW and UNITE HERE take… whether their aims correspond to those that define solidarity with the precepts of organized labor, or are simply personal ambitions of the stewardship. Political and corporate interests in this nation seem to have brainwashed the lion’s share of the citizenry by equating organized labor with socialism, much in the same light as those “horrible” social equalizers that are accused of diminishing rugged American individualism… such as universal health care, social security, accessible education and a decent minimum wage.

Could a new political labor force come to life from spontaneous despair? Or will it be more of the same… another tit in the financial-udder for the “me-too” Democrats? We must wait and see… and hope!