Pete Bohmer, Labor History and the Labor Movement, 10/31/06-Outline

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Pete Bohmer, Labor History and the Labor Movement, 10/31/06—Outline

Intro. 1. Labor history is history of working people struggling for dignity, on and off the job-not just unions—labor movement is more than unions but I will focus on unions today. Struggle by slaves is therefore given attention in Murolo and Chitty.

2. Unions are necessary as much today as in the past, question is what kind of union

3. Who is union—membership, staff, unions are us.

4. To raise wages, benefits, build a labor movement, two broadly differing strategies:

exclusionary—limit supply, undermined by non-union

inclusive—organize everyone, fight like hell to raise wages, benefits—build alliances.

5. Unions do raise wages, benefits—members by at least 20%--also non-members, Blacks

are more pro-union, more likely to be members of unions than whites.

This table is modified from Dan Leahy’s formulation.

Major U.S. Labor Union Federations

Name of Union, when formed?



Inclusivity Exclusivity




Knights of Labor, 1840’s

Competitive Capitalism

All Producers anti-Asian, strong in South

“An Injury to one is an Injury to All”,

Cooperative Commonwealth

Education, coops, anti-strike for 8 hour day

Died out, 1890’s

American Federation of Labor, 1880’s

Growth of Corporate Capitalism

Skilled workers, (white U.S. born male)

Increasingly business unionist, contracts, accept capitalism

Craft unionism, anti-state

Merged with

CIO in 1955

Industrial Workers of the World, IWW, 1905

Corporate Capitalism, growth of mass production

Unskilled, immigrant,

Challenged Jim Crow

“One Big Union”

Anarcho-syndicalist, anti-capitalist

General Strike, no contract, militant

Repression WW I and afterwards, small today

Congress of Industrial Organizations, CIO, 1936

Great depression, New Deal

Industrial, all workers. Women and Blacks as workers

Social Democratic, Industrial Unions

Sit-Down, strikes for recognition, work with Democratic party

Liberal, business unionist, left expelled, merged to form AFL-CIO in 1955.

Change to Win Coalition,


Corporate Globalization, decline of private sector unions

Service workers,

Retail, health,

Food, pro-immigrant

Business unionism, large unions that cross business sectors, e.g., SEIU

Organizing the unorganized

Six unions led by SEIU left AFL-CIO in 2005. Key leaders, Anna Burger, Andy Stern

Accord-- Post WWII-system of business-labor government relations that was established in the 1940's and lasted until the 1970's. An informal agreement between corporations, organized labor and the federal government where organized labor accepted the right of business to maximize profits, to direct the operations of the enterprise and make the major decisions such as what technology to use, where to invest, product development, opening and closing, hiring and firing, in return for assurance to unionized workers of slowly rising wages, trade union rights, relatively high employment, and some protection if you didn't work, social safety net, to be guaranteed by the intervention of the state, if necessary. It meant the recognition of unions where they were in place and real wages rising in line with productivity and increasing benefits but primarily for those in unions rather than the entire labor force. It ceded power over production, where to invest, the right to move capital, as well as for an independent politics. Key legislation—National Labor Relations Act, Social Security Act (19350, Taft-Hartley, 1947

Business Unionism—unions bargain primarily over wages and benefits—reliance on staff, on grievance procedures rather than struggle. Accept management prerogatives. May be liberal or conservative but accept capitalism, reliance on the Democratic party, lobbying. Most unions are social welfare liberal but afraid to break with Democratic Party.

Social Movement Unionism—unions as democratic movements—coalition with other groups for fundamental change, active around issues such as poverty, reproductive rights, anti-war, immigrant rights, global & environmental justice. Tries to organize all workers, inclusive unionism, including part-time workers and youth, and change policy and working conditions but does not accept capitalism. Social Movement unionism question right of business to shut down and flee, sees its allies as workers around the world, e.g. Brazil, South Korea, South Africa.


A. Link up with social movements and build alliances with various groups, but not through the Democratic Party. Need independent parties that respect working people and movements for social change. To build principled unity, racism and sexism must be directly challenged in all movements—these are labor issues. Actively work for particular needs of women workers such as childcare, reproductive rights, comparable worth.

B. Build inclusive unions--immigrant workers, bilingual education, temps and part-time Organize unorganized.

C. Labor as a social movement whose power is its members; democratic and rank and file control; that is organizing the unorganized. Including, the education of its members and the creation of a cultural resistance. This means Social Movement unionism with a vision, not business unionism.

D. Organize the unorganized in huge grass roots directed campaigns at Wal-Mart, fast food,

sectors of employment growth.

E. Community Based Unions—see Vanessa Tait, Poor Workers’ Unions, organize worker

centers—employed and unemployed, not necessarily one workplace, e.g., day laborers.

F. Demands need to go beyond business unionism, for worker control, for better social services, increased social wage, and universal health care. Also, solidarity across borders, quality and affordable education through college and housing for all.
G. Understand that there may be tactical alliances with some profit-making corporations on a specific issue, health care or education, but that their interests and ours are fundamentally opposed. Allies of U.S. labor movement are working people across borders, not U.S. elites. Respect for self-determination should shape foreign policy.
H. Long term vision of a society based on human dignity and meeting needs of all cannot be realized in a system based on profit maximization. We must combine short-term goals and reforms with a long-term vision of a fundamentally different society.
I. Labor and labor organizations of the form I advocate, social movement unionism, are a key element of any strategy for radical or fundamental social change. I claim that labor or the working class is the majority of the people, that work is an important part of people's lives, and that labor will play an important role in any radical and democratic transformation of the U.S. Hence, learn about labor history and unions, support struggles for organizing the unorganized, strikes, and struggles of working people.

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