[Marxism] Union labor under attack

Charles Brown cbrown at michiganlegal.org
Tue Aug 23 10:17:12 MDT 2005

>From the unionbusting Detroit News,...



Union labor under attack 

Givebacks threaten workers' good life

By Ron French, Louis Aguilar and Brett Clanton / The Detroit News 

Brandy Baker / The Detroit News

Northwest mechanics: The airline keeps running without striking workers such
as Carolyn Andreis.

Give back or give up?

Detroit, the cradle of the labor movement, is ground zero in a battle for
the soul -- and survival -- of organized labor. Unions are losing pay,
losing members, and even losing the sympathy
<http://www.detnews.com/2005/autosinsider/0508/23/A01-289731.htm>  of
supporters like Roth to the corporations that employ them. Are the
concessions being asked of the unions out of line?

 Get results and comments


As a daughter of public school teachers in Brooklyn, Megan Roth once spent a
month making signs, picketing and shouting slogans demanding better pay for
her parents and their co-workers. "It was a blast," recalls the 43-year-old
Southfield resident. 

So when a striking Northwest mechanic handed her a pamphlet asking her to
boycott Northwest Airlines, she read it intently. Then the financial adviser
proceeded to check into her Northwest flight to Atlanta. 

"I feel for them," Roth said. "But who is right or wrong? I honestly don't
know how to answer that." 

It's tough times for organized labor. 

Membership is at its lowest in a century. Locally, teachers and auto workers
are being pressured to take pay and benefit cuts. Mechanics for Northwest
went on strike Saturday and watched helplessly as replacement workers took
their place and members of other airline unions crossed picket lines. 

Detroit, the cradle of the labor movement, is ground zero in a battle for
the soul -- and survival -- of organized labor. Unions are losing pay,
losing members, and even losing the sympathy of supporters like Roth to the
corporations that employ them. 

The cracks in the House of Labor are spreading well beyond the picket lines
and union halls. Last month, 4.6 million workers from the Teamsters, the
United Food and Commercial Workers, and the Service Employees International
Union split from the AFL-CIO, the biggest rift organized labor has seen in
70 years. 

If the power and popularity of unions continues to decline, "it will make an
enormous difference to the average American," warned labor expert Harley
Shaiken, professor at the University of California at Berkeley. "An erosion
of unions today is an erosion of wages and benefits tomorrow." 

Union leaders have not been able to organize workers fast enough to stem the
losses. Labor groups have repeatedly failed to sign up workers at Wal-Mart
stores or the foreign-owned auto assembly plants popping up throughout the

The threat of a strike no longer strikes fear in CEOs the way it once did. 

A work slowdown by mechanics of Northwest in 1999 brought Metro Airport and
the airline to a halt. Strikes in the 1980s and 1990s paralyzed airlines
like Pan American World Airways.But when mechanics went on strike Saturday,
Northwest shuttled in replacement mechanics and kept most of its planes in
the air. Northwest wants to cut the number of mechanics in half and give
remaining workers a 25 percent pay cut. 

Members of other unions as well as passengers crossed the picket line, some
for the first time. 

Michael Raymore is a 28-year-old Detroiter who has grown up in a period of
declining union clout. 

"The idea of job security is too foreign for me to understand," said
Raymore, a corporate trainer flying to Louisville on Monday. "I'm already on
my second career, and I graduated from Western (Michigan University) four
years ago. 

"When I hear (strikers) say that their jobs and livelihoods are at stake,
I'm like, 'Well, yeah ... whose job isn't always on the line?'" 

'We've given enough'

Leaders of the United Auto Workers are meeting in Chicago this week to
discuss giving ground on hard-won pay and benefits in order to help General
Motors Corp. <javascript:companybox('GM')>  and Ford Motor
<javascript:companybox('F')>  Co. survive. The companies are struggling with
huge pension and health care obligations for current UAW workers and

"We've given enough, gee whiz," said Grant Muncy, chairman of UAW Local 211,
which represents 2,800 workers at a GM engine plant in Defiance, Ohio.
Employment at that plant has been cut in half in five years, and the union
agreed to higher co-pays for prescription drugs and doctor visits in the
last national contract in 2003. 

The atmosphere at the annual conference was more somber than usual. GM and
Delphi Corp., the Troy-based auto supplier, are pressuring the union for
relief from rising labor costs now -- two years before their contract
expires in 2007. 

Small groups of men huddled in serious conversation, asking who had heard
what and playing out various doomsday scenarios. 

"The unions are going to survive," said Gerald Horton, 61, alternate
committeeman at a Wentsville, Ohio, plant that makes GM full-size vans. "But
they're going to get beat up." 

Detroit Public Schools teachers are taking a strike vote today after the
school corporation asked them to take a 2.5 percent pay cut and reductions
in various benefits. 

"I know everybody is taking a cut, but it has got to stop somewhere," said
Patsy Bell, 55, of Detroit, who has a granddaughter and three nephews who
live with her and go to Detroit's Vernor Elementary. She is worried that
school won't start on time but supports the teachers. She doesn't think they
should take a pay cut. She says the district's budget problems aren't their

Bell, who is a union member as a housekeeper at Harper University Hospital,
said she's saddened that unions seem to be losing their clout. "It's a
shame," Bell said. "How many people fought and lost their jobs and were
jailed ... for the struggle? We are going to go back five steps instead of
going forward." 

Fewer Americans have connections to unions than at any time since the
beginning of the 20th century. Fifty years ago, 35 percent of American
workers were union members. Today, union workers have dropped to 12.5
percent -- 8 percent when only private-sector unions are counted. 

Difficult time for unions

Organized labor has faced tough times before. In the 1980s, companies
demanded concessions from unions routinely. "But I don't think there has
ever been as bad a time as this," said Gary Chaison, professor of industrial
management at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. 

"In the past, there was always a sense that it was just a bad economic
period and things would get better," Chaison said. "Now there is a real
sense of gloom about the labor movement, a sense of disarray about what it
is to do." 

As membership has declined, so has unions' image in the eyes of the public.
Labor organizations that once were seen as hero of the common man are often
portrayed as greedy special interest groups. 

"Consumers don't seem to care (about unions)," Chaison said. "A typical
American worker would probably say unions were once effective voices in the
workplaces, but in the face of globalization, they don't have a role

The threat of jobs moving to Mexico or other cheap labor markets has taken
the teeth out of labor, Chaison said. "Traditionally, unions made demands
and management reacted," he said. "Today, companies can just pick up and
move (to a cheaper labor market)." 

Northwest mechanics know that Jet Blue, for example, performs maintenance on
its airplanes in El Salvador to save money. Northwest already outsources
some of its maintenance. 

"I think the days of big organizing and labor clout in the way that we
usually mean by that phrase are pretty much gone," said Glenn McDonald, the
John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and Strategy at Washington
University in St. Louis. 

"There are a few industries, like construction, where old-fashioned labor
clout is still there. But most of the economy just doesn't work like that
anymore," McDonald said. 

What unions must do

To stay relevant, unions must do a better job of public relations, Shaiken
of UC-Berkley said. 

"The public has been inundated for decades by an anti-union message," he

If unions are to survive in today's competitive global economy, they must be
willing to work with management in solving mutual problems, including
recognizing that the health care costs are hobbling many employers, said
Jules I. Crystal, a Chicago labor attorney. 

"The unions have to go beyond the knee-jerk reflex that management is always
wrong," said Crystal, a University of Michigan law school graduate who
represents management in labor disputes. "They have to take a more flexible,
innovative approach." 

If unions fail to respond to today's economic pressures, Crystal said, "I
think it is possible they will become even more irrelevant to employees and
employers than they are today." 

Chaison worries that unless organized labor finds new strategies, "they
could represent just islands of membership. They'll get smaller and

Shaiken hopes that doesn't happen. "So much of what American workers enjoy
today was pioneered by unions or given by companies trying to avoid unions.
Pensions, paid health care, the 40-hour workweek, overtime pay, all were a
result of unions in past generations," he said. "Labor is going through
tough times, but there can still be solidarity." 

Detroit News Staff Writers Richard A. Ryan and Christine MacDonald
contributed to this report. You can reach Ron French at (313) 222-2175 or
rfrench@ detnews.com.


Detroit Schools

Previous reports

 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> Letter: Teachers
shouldn't pay for Detroit's fiscal woes
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> Teacher strike
could destroy Detroit district
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> Teachers blast
Detroit district's plan to cut pay
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> Insider to lead
Detroit schools <http://www.detnews.com/2005/schools/0505/01/B01-162352.htm>

 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> Burnley to exit
schools post <http://www.detnews.com/2005/schools/0503/31/B01-134903.htm> 
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> Detroit schools
leadership unclear
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> More parents pull
kids out of Detroit schools, try charters
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> Team spirit
abounds at high-tech schools
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> Detroit schools
sues contractor <http://www.detnews.com/2005/schools/0502/27/D01-101254.htm>

 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> Detroit to shut
schools; 10,600 kids in limbo
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> Parents, students
and staff anxiously await list of school closures
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> Editorial: Burnley
is needed to help Detroit Schools downsize
 Detroit board votes not to renew Burnley's contract
 Editorial: False hope costs Detroit schools
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> Burnley's fading
support worsens crisis at schools
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> Granholm strategy
would refinance debt, keep buildings from closing this year
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> State pressures
Detroit schools <http://www.detnews.com/2004/schools/0412/05/B01-24460.htm> 
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> Editorial: Don't
Saddle Detroit Schools with Unneeded Financial Czar
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> State leaders to
meet about Detroit schools
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> Burnley wants to
lean on state for $200 million
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> Detroit may close
40 schools <http://www.detnews.com/2004/schools/0411/18/A01-5901.htm> 
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> Detroit schools
rift must heal, all agree
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> Detroit voters
take back power to elect school board
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> Editorial: Detroit
school reform builds foundation for progress
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> Special report -
DPS Reform, 5 years later: Despite fiscal improvements, student achievement
still lags, dropout rates high


Previous reports
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> Delphi tells UAW
to cut pay <http://www.detnews.com/2005/autosinsider/0508/09/A01-274912.htm>

 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> AFL-CIO rift
threatens labor
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> UAW approves
negotiations to help ailing GM
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> UAW tested by
giveback demands
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> UAW ranks swell by
30,000 <http://www.detnews.com/2005/autosinsider/0504/05/C01-139821.htm> 
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> Automaker: UAW
benefits are too rich
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> Union hopes to
snag Toyota plant
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> Health costs
ignite talks
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> GM seeks UAW help
to ease financial burden
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> Unions aim to stop
bleeding <http://www.detnews.com/2005/autosinsider/0503/01/B01-104052.htm> 
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> UAW softens
tactics in union-wary South
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> Editorial: Unions
Ally to Attract More Health Care Workers
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> Visteon workers
vote to join UAW
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> Feds may stunt
union organizing campaigns
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> UAW fails again in
contented South
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> Group claims Big
Three help UAW organize parts supplier employees
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> Op-Ed: Organized
workers reject union at Toyota
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> UAW turns to
smaller suppliers
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/general/redarrow.gif> UAW recruiting at
parts makers draws fire, suits

Northwest Airlines

Related reports

 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/staticimages/general/arrow-red-small.gif> Check
your flight status <http://www.nwa.com/travel/flifo/index.html> 
Delays slow Northwest fliers
Northwest flying, but future at risk
Northwest readies for bankruptcy
Mechanics primed to walk out
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/staticimages/general/arrow-red-small.gif> Fiery
airline mechanics go it alone
Daniel Howes: Wall St. will be the big winner in Northwest strike
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/staticimages/general/arrow-red-small.gif> Union
warns Northwest strike is likely as talks sputter
Flight attendants hold key to Northwest strike
Fliers scramble for alternatives
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/staticimages/general/arrow-red-small.gif> FAQ:
Airline expects to fly amid strike
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/staticimages/general/arrow-red-small.gif> Some
Northwest mechanics not waiting around for a happy ending
National mechanics union pledges help for Northwest members
Northwest readies 3,000 to take strikers' jobs
Mechanics union fears future in jeopardy
Federal mediators prod both sides to resume stalled negotiations
Airline demands $1.1 billion in labor concessions
Northwest union approves strike
 <http://www.detnews.com/pix/staticimages/general/arrow-red-small.gif> Check
your flight status <http://www.nwa.com/travel/flifo/index.html> 

Brandy Baker / The Detroit News

Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association members picket at Detroit Metro. A
work slowdown by mechanics at Northwest in 1999 brought Metro Airport and
the airline to a halt.


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