Monday, August 4, 2008

Crap or Not Crap

The No-Strike Pledge American labor made during WWII.

While it might seem obvious that labor would agree to support the war effort and tone down worker militancy, others have argued that the roots of all (I exaggerate for effect) that ills American labor today can be traced back to this agreement. Ultimately, labor unions themselves became responsible for controlling worker militancy and striking became a rare and ritualized endeavor tied to the collective bargaining process, rather than a way for pissed-off workers to deal with grievances or shop-floor disputes in a timely manner. This responsibility for unions further lead labor leaders to view any membership radicalism with suspicion, as it might upset the productive tranquility guaranteed by the labor-management alliance.

What do you all think? Was it a mistake for labor to agree to the No-Strike Pledge during WWII?


lex dexter said...

i'm not ready to vote yet, but two qualifiers to make things even more difficult.

1) with the no-strike accord comes the "professionalization" of grievance procedures, and the general bureaucratic drift that disempowered shop stewards and turned staff "organizers" into "business agents."

2) the number of strikes between 1946 and 1980 was still huge.. in fact, many _blame_ the strike-happy 1970s labor militancy for PATCO and Fed chair Volcker's subsequent, anti-inflationary "fuck full employment" stance. in other words, while we are right to deem the no-strike agreement as a major turning point with lasting consequences, we should ALSO remember that, after the war, it did not necessarily lead to a less strikes; rather, it outsourced the job of pacifying and policing workers from the govt and business to leaders of Internationals.

wobblie said...

I, too, can't render a verdict yet, despite the fact that the no-strike pledge clearly set the table for what was to come.

That said, I'm having trouble seeing a politically tenable alternative to the accord that would've a)accommodated the broad public support for war mobilization (a strike would've become a political black-eye, no?) and b)placated the anti-fascism of many union members.

LERCer said...

And here I thought the whole point of crap/no crap was so that you had to make a fucking decision and defend it, not blabble about "complicating factors" and "ambiguity."

Did this blog go French while I was taking a dump? Man up!

lex dexter said...

fancy that! didn't see a vote from you, Lerc-er.

oh wait, it's... you.

lex dexter said...

per wobs, i don't see how labor could've gotten around the pledge.

that said, could the "accord" have been bargained to have substance such that Taft-Hartley could have been prevented? that, there, is the mothereffer, as far as i'm concerned.

wobblie said...

The French = not crap.

dave3544 said...

The French = crap.

wobblie said...

This showdown is too big for just threadjacking. Take it to the mainstage?

dr said...

I think the question -- and pretty much the whole enterprise of gazing at labor's navel in an attempt to understand the root causes of our present predicament -- is crap. Or, rather, while I think it has scholarly interest, I don't think it's relevant to present circumstances. Pass efca. Repeal the provision of taft-hartley that allows states to go right to work. Elect Obama and push him to appoint good people to the NLRA. Do those three things (and two seem likely to happen) and labor will be sitting pretty.

wobblie said...

Which of those three things seem likely, dr? I'm only counting one out of that list. Taft-Hartley and right-to-work provisions aren't going to be touched. Scuttlebutt 'round these parts is that EFCA won't have 60 votes to pass in the Senate, even after the elections. Which leaves us with Obama appointing good... well, at least neutral people to the NLRB.

lex dexter said...


uh, i'm going to respectfully submit that EFCA and NLRB appointments are going to do nothing about bringing back the strike as a viable weapon for workers, both legally and in terms of its overall, popular legitimacy.

it seems to me that, moreso than RTW and T-H, that the marginalization of the strike began when Internationals, Business and GOVT entered into the WWII agreement, and internationals needed to show they could contain rank and file militancy. certainly you can argue that Reagan firing PATCO finished the job and practically "criminalized" striking as a form of political protest, but Dave and I got hopped up on cataloging labor's self-inflicted wounds from an often glorified period.

i come before you as a longtime producer and consumer of (perhaps academically interesting) crap (witness this blog, talk to my family and friends). but i'd also remind you that this particular debate really stemmed from a desire to discuss solutions for unions that DON'T involve "we need to elect _______ ."

you are not to blame for my frustration. but at least in Oregon, i'm pained (and bored) when every conversation about "fixing" the labor movement ends up invoking an executive change-agent, an electoral remedy, and by extension, I'd argue, a depoliticization of the workplace. apparently voting booths and washington, DC are the only places where "change" happens.

dr said...

Hey lex, you brought up Taft - Hartley. Either the legislative environment matters or it doesn't. Pick.

I don't really care if strikes have "legitimacy" except insofar as that bears on whether workers win improved wages and working conditions. As for whether strikes are effective, it depends on the strike. There have been some disheartening losses in defensive strikes over the last several years, but it's not as if you can blame striking as a tactic for the losses while ignoring everything else.

To take one example, the workers at American Axle didn't cave because their strike lacked popular legitimacy, nor was their strike criminalized, nor were the revolutionary spirits of the workers crushed by Big Boss Gettlefinger. Without getting buried too deep into the details, between deindustrialization, spiraling health care costs, and capital mobility, the workers at American Axle were in a bad bargaining position. Short of a worker revolution overthrowing the capitalist system, they were going to take a pay cut.

Would the workers at American Axle do well to reflect on the lessons of the WWII no-strike clause? Possibly. It might blow their praxis right the fuck up.

As for unions taking over 'the job of pacifying and policing workers' let's agree that this is a problem. But why not address it by looking at present institutions and structures with a practical eye?

dave3544 said...

Seems we all agree on EFCA...does the membership?

If you surveyed the membership about what the priorities for the union should be, I doubt you'll find EFCA high on the list.

If you asked the membership if the support EFCA, I bet you'd be surprised by the high number of "no" votes (my "frames" class at union summer school last year was largely unaware of what it meant and largely against it when they found out).

What does the membership want? I'm also going to blithely assert that it is not anti-capitalist revolution. I'm going to say that the union members want cheaper health care, cheaper gas, and an end to the war.

I will say this though, if Obama loses (oh fuck no, please, God, just this once? Please?) then the labor movement must consider ending our over reliance on electoral solutions. The world will get much worse and we would do better to focus our efforts on doing what we can in our locals to make lives better for our workers.

wobblie said...

I'll go even farther, dave, and say that we need to reconsider our reliance on electoral solutions regardless of who wins. That's not to say that it doesn't matter who wins (it does) in terms of providing the environment within which we operate, but we have to quit expecting that if we elect D's, we'll get a fucking pony. In terms of politics, we, right now, need to get the members and the public out in front so that the pols are trying to catch up to us rather than trying to push the pols to do the right thing.

Dennis said...

"but we have to quit expecting that if we elect D's, we'll get a fucking pony."

You, me, labor and everyone else.

Also, did dave just assert that grassroots action might be a good idea?

I might faint.

Dave, would you add "increased say in the workplace" to things the membership wants?

dave3544 said...


Whether the masses yearn for control of the means of production or are content to collect just enough money to support their "lifestyle" is, I believe, at the heart of this debt.

I've always been a beer and tv man myself. Or as I have put it in other contexts, the American worker just wants to be fat and happy.

Dennis said...

I sense the shadow of class privilege lurking in this discussion.

What about the connection between controlling the means of production and getting the wages that make one fat and happy? Is that irrelevant here, or am I making an unfounded assumption that this is true?