Democrats & Liberals Archives

Employment Security

Two big labor unions, the Teamsters and the SEIU, have split away from the AFL-CIO, and more unions are planning to do so. This was bound to happen because the union movement was losing membership and becoming less influential with time. Their decreasing clout stems from business assaults, Republican government attacks, and changes in the world economy. But unions, or something similar, are needed now more than ever because of the tremendous increase in vulnerability of people who work for a living. What we need is an organization that can counter the inordinate influence of business and fight for security of employees.

Andrew L. Stern of SEIU seems to understand the global problem facing unions, when he says:

"We live in a world in which companies, not countries, are making the global economic rules. No one is going to reverse globalization. But a global economy needs policies that benefit working people, not just giant corporations. Workers in global companies need global unions to negotiate agreements across borders that help raise living standards for workers, instead of continuiing the race to the bottom."

Stern insists that organizing more workers is more important than engaging in political influence. Sweeney, the head of AFL-CIO, claims that politics is more important than organizing activities. It seems like a chicken-an-egg problem. However, you cannot do much politicking if you do not represent many people. This is why I think that Stern is right: unions must build their membership if they are to have more clout.

Here is how Hoffa made this point:

"This was not done lightly. We must have more union members in order to change the political climate that is undermining workers' rights in this country. The AFL-CIO has chosen the opposite approach."

Although Stern and Hoffa express themselves with reference to labor unions, everyone who works for a living - unskilled, skilled, experts, professionals, supervisors - is in crisis. If you are employed by someone else your future is under stress.

For years now Republican presidents and Big Business have sought to destroy unions. Reagan ruined the aircraft controllers union. George W. Bush made sure that no unions would operate in the new Homeland Security Department. Republicans worked with Big Business to destroy the effectiveness of the National Labor Relations Board. Businesses discouraged union membership through propaganda, intimidation and firings.

Not only have they succeeded in making unions ineffectual, they have made the life of employees more uncertain. We say that investors deserve what they earn because they take a risk. Nowadays, an employee takes more risks than investors. An employee may need to be part time or temporary. Perhaps he is not even an employee, but an "independent contractor." He is afraid to ask for a raise. He dare not join or even talk about a union for fear of being fired. Any day, he is afraid, the company will merge with another company and he will then lose his job. Or maybe his job will be outsourced entirely.

Globalization will make the future of employees worse. All employees will need to compete with workers in other countries. And you can be sure business will take advantage of this situation. They already are.

Don't kid yourself. Having a college degree or even a graduate degree, or being an expert in a specific field, will not help you. Outsourcing will get you even if you are a corporate executive. Look at what happened when IBM sold its PC division to a Chinese corporation - the IBM executive in charge was part of the deal!

It's obvious that people who are employees must build their clout or they will be dragged down to the bottom by Big Business. Such people, the vast majority of Americans, need an organization to fight for them. But I do not think it should be called a "union," a word that turns some people off. Neither should the word "labor" be part of the name, since it implies unskilled people. To include everybody who works for a living, it should use a word like "employee" or "employment."

Tentatively, I'd say, Stern should use a name like "Employment Security Association." Perhaps there is a better way to express it, but he needs a name that is broad and can be used globally.

The employment security of all those who have jobs is at extremely low levels and promises to get worse. An Employment Security Association that fights for those who work for a living is long past due. I hope Stern and Hoffa build such as organization.

Posted by Paul Siegel at July 26, 2005 6:08 PM