10/23/07

Union cheerleaders dis workers' right to choose

A new book, “State of the Unions” by Philip M. Dine, makes virtually irrelevant “right to work” laws to improve West Virginia’s economy or any other.

Such a law was recently proposed by West Virginia University professor Russell Sobel in a book of recommendations by economists titled “Unleashing Capitalism: Why Prosperity Stops at the West Virginia Border and How to Fix It.”

Dine maintains that organized labor, despite opposition and lost membership, faces a future for growth. He writes about “how labor can strengthen the middle class, improve our economy and regain political influence.”

The outlook excludes right to work. Some call it a “union-busting law.” It holds that union membership shouldn’t be a condition to work and that membership dues shouldn’t be spent for political purposes without the consent of the member.

Dine makes clear, nonetheless, that organized labor has its work cut out for growth in 22 states with right-to-work laws as well as in the rest like West Virginia. He notes the decline in mining and manufacturing workers.

New technology and other forces in the global marketplace make an impact on unions and all else. “State of the Unions” tells in a compelling way about the ups and downs of the labor movement.

“Most successful union-organizing campaigns are now taking place in sectors composed largely of women, minorities or immigrant workers,” Dine writes.

Among cases cited as bidding fair for the future is that of the women of Delta Pride, most of them black and more than 1,000 strong in the right-to-work state of Mississippi. They organized in the multibillion-dollar catfish industry against a history steeped in racial and economic prejudice.

On the other hand, the American Federation of Teachers and the AFL-CIO played an important role with others in foreign affairs that eventually led to the breakup of the Soviet Union and the communist bloc during the Cold War.

At home, organized labor has been a key player in politics since the era of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal war on the Great Depression.

“Clear it with Sidney,” the line goes, referring to the Roosevelt administration’s deference to labor leader Sidney Hillman. The White House consulted him on legislation and policy matters.

Dine discusses labor’s political clout today, but it’s hardly on par with yesterday’s muscle of teeming industrial unions and their likes. Dine sees a comeback for bigger and better things, despite signs to the contrary. However, the right to work isn’t among them.

An ill sign shows in the split between leaders with first priority on organizing workers and others who lean more toward traveling the political route for public policy and economic change, as in the heyday of the labor movement.

Dine expects the split to be contained in the promising light of action and leadership at the grass roots. Some craft unions, for instance, open math classes of their apprenticeship programs to other neighborhood youths. Other binding efforts shine in communities around the country.

I found “State of the Unions” to be a good read. The foreword is by former Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo.

(sundaygazettemail.com)

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