By WILLIAM ENYART
Are we entering a new phase of the Labor union movement?
We’ve seen the Labor Movement grow, change, shrink and begin to grow again over the last century and a half. We’ve seen management and government react with violence in the early days of our country’s Labor Movement, arresting, beating and even murdering Labor organizers. We saw police and state militia forces used against organizing Labor.
As Labor unions gained acceptance and we went from organizing railway workers to auto workers to steelworkers to garment workers to coal miners to craft workers to retail workers, Labor gained public acceptance and, with unity, political leverage.
From the bloody battles of the coal mining fight came United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) President John L. Lewis, who some saw as the most powerful man in the country in the 1930’s and 40’s because the country ran on coal and John L. Lewis ran the UMWA.
Countless other Labor leaders led the fight for wages, benefits and dignity. Leaders, who because of the solidarity of the Labor Movement, sat down with presidents who listened to Labor’s concerns. They listened not because they were “good guys” but because of Labor’s political power.
As manufacturing and mining peaked in this country, we began to see unionization grow among government and white-collar workers, with AFSCME, NEA, AFT and others taking up the fight for workers’ rights.
As the Labor Movement has grown, receded and changed to begin growing again, one thing has remained constant – non-unionized management’s opposition to Labor organizations. We see Amazon fighting organization attempts. We see them violating Labor laws and coercing employees. We see Starbucks offering raises to non-union shops while withholding them from stores that have voted to organize.
This anti-union bias among billion-dollar organizations with billion-dollar CEOs is the norm in this great country of ours.
A CRACK IN THE WALL?
There may be a crack in this wall of anti-worker bias. A crack in, of all places, the tech industry.
The tech industry is notoriously anti-union. We see Apple fighting the Labor Movement in its retail stores, just as Amazon, the nation’s second-largest employer, has fought Labor efforts in its warehouses.
The crack in the wall has started with Microsoft.
Microsoft, with its worldwide work force of 181,000, doesn’t have a single union worker in the U.S. Yet Microsoft’s CEO announced that the company will NOT interfere with employees’ rights to form or join unions and will collaborate with employees who seek to unionize – unlike other tech companies, according to the June 3 Wall Street Journal.
IS IT INEVITABLE?
What does this mean? Microsoft’s CEO in his public statement cited the “inevitability” of unionization in the tech sector as the company’s reason for moving to a collaborative stance rather than a combative stance with Organized Labor.
Does this mean “halleluiah, we’ve arrived?” Nope, it means that a savvy business executive, who sees the results of the hard work of organizing, organizing, organizing, has chosen to acknowledge workers’ rights and workers’ dignity. He wouldn’t have done that without all the efforts being put in all over the country by Labor.
With that crack in the wall of tech opposition, we must redouble our efforts to organize non-union workers and campaign for Labor-friendly politicians.
The struggle we have is tough enough without government putting its massive thumb on the scale in favor of management. Remember that when you vote this fall – and remember to vote! It matters.
(William Enyart is a former U.S. congressman for Illinois’ 12th District and retired two-star general with 35 years in the military serving in the U.S. Air Force, serving as Adjutant General of Illinois commanding both the Illinois Army and Air National Guard. He started his working life as a member of UAW Local 145, Montgomery, Ill, where he and his father worked for Caterpillar Tractor Co. You can listen to his blog posts at https://www.buzzsprout.com/1089968).