Monday, July 3, 2017

How Union-Busting Bosses Propel the Right Wing to Power

A new book from the University of Illinois Press' "The Working Class History in American History" series offers a broad survey of how bosses have historically engaged in union-busting. Against Labor: How U.S. Employers Organized to Defeat Union Activism is a collection of scholarly essays edited by Rosemary Feurer and Chad Pearson. The essays that comprise Against Labor cover a period that stretches from the late 1880s to the Clinton era. Elizabeth Esch and David Roediger explore the racist assumptions that were built into so-called "scientific management." The men with the stopwatches who broke production down into ever smaller tasks had ethnic preferences for each: Lithuanians for grinding steel, "American Poles" for forging, never Mexicans for the night shift and so on. A happy (for management) side effect of this speed up was the simmering resentment between different nationalities that hindered workplace solidarity. Chad Pearson shines a light on Progressive-era worker organizations that were created and propped up by employers to help workers resist "union monopolies." In other words, they created unions for scabs to break strikes and open up closed union shops. Robert H. Woodrum looks at the use of the Ku Klux Klan and employer-sponsored vigilantism to run union organizers out of the Alabama docks and reverse the modest gains southern workers made during World War I. Michael Dennis updates the southern picture by documenting the UFCW's sustained, large-scale organizing drive in non-union Virginia supermarkets in the early 1990s. Already facing enormous competitive pressure from Walmart, the supermarkets dug in for a years-long fight with little concern for the law. The story is a perfectly concise example of just how broken the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) was as a venue for protecting workers by the time Bill Clinton took office.

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