Unions and Rights in the Space Age
By Jack Barbash
World War II forced the integration of the newer unions into the war effort and forced business into working out accommodations with the unions for the duration. Absent the urgency of war, business might not have conceded industrial union power quite so quickly. In this sense, World War II and its immediate aftermath represent a period of consolidation of union power. This was followed successively by containment, which began with the enactment of the Taft-Hartley law, and renewal, as evidenced by the eruption of public-sector unionism in the early 1960s.
Wartime controls inevitably built up tensions within the rank and file. With the war's end, a wave of nationwide strikes battered the maritime, railroad, coal, oil, auto, electrical, telephone, and steel industries; four and a half million workers were on the picket lines during the strike wave in 1946. The strike wave had its economic source in the massive reconversion from war to peace as the unions sought to make up "the cut in take-home pay" caused by reduced overtime, unemployment, downgrading, price rises, and increased productivity. The unions argued heatedly that business had been favored by liberal tax laws and generous terms for the renegotiations of contracts and disposal of surplus property. But no comparable solicitude had been shown for the "human side" of reconversion.
The strike wave moved bargaining into new salients. In the oil strike the government encouraged settlement through a fact-finding board. In the General Motors strike, the UAW at GM, under the leadership of Walter P. Reuther, marshaled a mass of data to support its claim that the union's demand for a thirty-percent wage increase could be met without raising prices--an issue which was never really joined. In U.S. Steel, the wage-price relationship took a different twist. In effect, the company made its response to the union's wage demands contingent in the size of the product price increase, which the government was prepared to grant. In meatpacking, the federal government seized the struck plants, which the CIO's Packinghouse Workers denounced as an act of strike-breaking. President Harry Truman resorted to seizure of the railroads and threatened strikers with military conscription. But at the last minute the unions pulled back and called off the strike. In Western Electric the National Federation of Telephone Workers, a reconverted company union, proved its independence by engaging in a series of militant strikes. A New York strike of 30,000 longshoremen dramatized the inter- and intra-union conflict on the waterfront.
The strike wave gave additional momentum to restrictive legislation. The Lea Act prohibiting musician featherbedding in radio stations and the Hobbs Anti-Racketeering Act were passed in 1946. A year later the Wagner Act was amended by the Taft-Hartley Act. Authored by Senator Robert Taft of Ohio and Representative Fred Hartley of New Jersey, the Act reflected the ebbing of union political influence and the corresponding rise of business influence in the first Republican Congress since 1930. The underlying philosophy of Taft-Hartley was to balance off the Wagner Act restrictions on employers with restrictions against unions. Denounced by unions as a "slave-labor act," the Taft-Hartley Act outlawed the closed shop, jurisdictional strikes, and secondary boycotts. Union power in emergency disputes, political contributions, and negotiated health and welfare funds were curtailed. Union officials were required to file non-communist affidavits. States were allowed to enact "right-to-work" laws, which created the so-called 14(b) issue. The injunction was reinstated to restrain boycotts, jurisdictional strikes, and national emergency walkouts. The National Labor Relations Board was bifurcated into separate prosecuting and judicial arms. Taft-Hartley established a new legal equilibrium in the union-management relationship less favorable to unions.
Taft-Hartley was brought about by both long- and short-run causes. From its passage on, the Wagner Act had been subjected to a continuous pressure for amendment by business and by AFL craft unions for whom the NLRB administration of the act was biased in favor of the industrial unions. Moreover, unionism had become "big unionism," and with it, as public-opinion polls showed, pro-union sentiment declined. The legislative history of the law makes plain the specific big union targets: John L. Lewis, James C. Petrillo, the building trades unions, communist unionism, and large scale strikes of the 1945-46 variety. Each represented an archetype for a particular Taft-Hartley provision.
On balance, Taft-Hartley and right-to-work legislation may have hurt the weak unions more than the strong. The Textile Workers found the more liberal free speech granted to employers the strongest obstacle to their southern organizing efforts. For the settled unions Taft-Hartley, aside from its reenforcement of containment influences, does not seem to have been an independent influence of determinable consequences. It is possible to speculate that the law forced a psychological withdrawal of labor leaders and created a more narrow focus. The unions against which Taft-Hartley provisions were specifically aimed--the miners, building trades, musicians--seem not to have been seriously hurt by the law. The "slave-labor law" epithet hurled at Taft-Hartley was clearly a case of propaganda overkill. For a decade or so Taft-Hartley and the right-to-work laws became a prime political issue for the unions and probably did more to bring unions energetically into federal and state politics than anything else.
Containment of union influence impelled the trade-union movement to reexamine the division within its ranks between AFL and CIO. It took twenty years for them finally to heal the breach and unite in a new, merged federation. Not until 1953 did unity negotiations begin to take hold. The AFL had earlier insisted that the CIO give up its identity and surrender its members to the AFL unions with the relevant jurisdiction; and later, that any unity move be premised on a "return to the house of labor"--the AFL. The CIO leadership found these terms unacceptable; over the years the affiliated unions had built a strong sense of identification with CIO.
For its part, the older AFL leadership regarded the CIO as upstarts mostly concerned with politicizing the labor movement. The CIO people were just not their kind of trade unionists. The dominant sentiment in the CIO saw AFL leadership as unduly preoccupied with protecting vested jurisdictional interests. Philip Murray, speaking for CIO, resisted what AFL president William Green called "organic unity" and countered with a concept of "functional unity," which meant that the AFL and CIO would work together on matters of common concern but not necessarily enter into constitutional merger.
Final merger was preceded by two trial collaborations. First was the joint participation of the AFL and CIO in the founding of International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) in 1949. This represented an implicit concession of equality by the AFL to the CIO in the international labor movement and CIO recognition that international communism had a dark side for trade unionism. The second collaboration came in December, 1950, with the formation of the United Labor Policy Committee. ULPC was made up of AFL, CIO, the Railway Labor Executive Association, and the Machinists--who were then unaffiliated. "Our purpose," ULPC announced, "is to develop a common approach to the problems arising out of the mobilization and stabilization program" deriving out of American involvement in the Korean action. Here, in effect, was Murray's functional unity, although the ULPC idea seems not to have been of CIO origin.
The deaths of William Green and Philip Murray brought sudden changes in the top leadership of the AFL and CIO. Walter Reuther became CIO president, and George Meany acceded to the presidency of the AFL. Prospects for full merger suddenly revived in December of 1952. Meany announced that unity negotiations should start from a new beginning, which meant abandonment of "come back to the house of labor" as a precondition. For the first time in the unity negotiations, the AFL was offering the CIO partnership, not absorption.
The contrast between Meany and Green could not have been more marked. For Green the federation was mainly a barometer of national union interests; for Meany the federation was something more than the sum of its parts: It had a responsibility to initiate and to lead. Meany's exercise of federation leadership, allowing for differences in personal idiosyncrasies, has been in the CIO style of Lewis and Murray. Gompers was a leader, but he led by counsel and only rarely by sheer strength of will as has Meany. The labor movement became a national power center in Meany's time as it had never been under Gompers and Green.
At the first AFL-CIO unity meeting Meany proposed that the first step in unity negotiations be the consummation of a no-raid agreement. With minor changes, the AFL accepted the CIO draft. On December 5, 1955, the two labor organizations merged.
There are several reasons why the merger came when it did. The most important historical reason was that both AFL and CIO regarded the Eisenhower administration as essentially antagonistic to the interests of organized labor. While in the 1930s and 1940s both AFL and CIO unions could grow concurrently, in the 1950s one union's expansion was perceived as coming at the expense of another. Separation had, therefore, become an indulgence in animosities which had lost their meaning.
A secondary reason--which by itself would not have been enough to have brought the CIO and AFL together--was that the passage of time had settled the spheres of influence of the affiliated unions and blunted much of the force of the craft vs. industrial union issue. The sphere-of-influence problems separating the AFL and CIO unions were found to be no more serious than those separating individual AFL unions from each other. Developments within the AFL and CIO made unified action easier. The CIO purged the communist dominated unions from its ranks. The AFL expelled the racket-ridden longshoremen.
George Meany quickly applied his brand of leadership to the unity issue. He was the decisive influence in the federation's racket-union expulsions, and his resolute stand against readmission of the Teamsters had been enough to keep them out. The internal disputes agreement was also a major Meany achievement. The public policy stands of the federation have never been broader than in the Meany era. His forth-right position on civil rights--even as against affiliates--was spelled out before a House subcommittee in 1962:
" . . . Corruption--like communism--seizes the leadership of a union and works down to lower levels by perverting, the union's democratic procedures. The rank-and-file members are not consciously affected in their daily lives. They don't know what's going on, and they tend to dismiss published charges against the leadership as just another attack by a normally hostile press. Expulsion was the only way to convince the membership of this domination by corrupt elements. In most cases the members have rallied to new, clean unions or have overthrown the old leadership. But there is a big difference between corruption and discrimination. Discrimination is resisted at the top but perpetuated below. Discrimination represents the wrong-headedness of rank-and-file members; it is often maintained by unimpeachably democratic processes. Would we be better off to cast out these misguided members and remove them from the influence of the mainstream of the labor movement, meanwhile expelling in the same action the national leaders who deplore and fight discriminations- I think not. I think we can do more toward educating them if they're in the federation, with their own leaders getting broad AFL-CIO support toward the same end."
Under Meany the federation has manifested increased sensitivity to civil rights issues. At the federation's 1959 convention, Meany asked A. Philip Randolph, "Who in hell nominated you the guardian of all the Negroes in America-" At the 1963 convention, Meany referred to the black labor leader as "our own Phil Randolph." From the NAACP came the accolade: "The AFL-CIO has been one of the bulwarks of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights which has been responsible for so much of the national legislation under which we now make progress."
The AFL-CIO's legislative representatives under Meany "work on a broader range of issues than any group in Washington." The first AFL-CIO priority of 1975 was a tax cut of more than twenty billion dollars keyed to lower- and middle-income taxpayers. Notable was the relative lack of emphasis on pure labor issues. The Federation's hard and unremitting anticommunist position in international policy--from which it has not been diverted by the easing of cold-war tensions in the post-Stalin years--also derived its main direction from Meany, as did the decision to remain neutral in the 1972 presidential elections.
The source of George Meany's power was not the national union from which he came--the Plumbers is a part, even though it has been helpful in winning acceptance for decisions otherwise distasteful to the building trades. This power is in large part the product of the great personal force exerted by a man who knows what he wants.
Meany's counterpart in the AFL-CIO merger, Walter Reuther, set forces in motion conducive to unity. First, he was committed to a unified labor movement as a matter of principle. Second, there was the threat from the United Steelworkers that if the CIO did not merge as a unit, individual unions would disaffiliate and join the AFL individually.
The union leader can hardly ever transcend the constraints of the economy, public policy, the employer's condition, inter- and intra-union power relationships, and the characteristic incrementalism of union strategy. The zone within which leadership charisma and "bossism" has to maneuver, therefore, is relatively narrow and, despite the dramatics which make it seem otherwise, the margin left for "pure" leadership is almost always very thin.
This is not to say that union leadership is "an abstract force in the grip of an abstract mass," as Selig Perlman once put it. On the contrary, what matters is how well the union leader adjusts to his environment, and this injects a large component of skill and craft in the union leader's performance. The craft of union leadership may frequently be more important to the permanent life of the union than the quickly dissipating asset of charisma. Reuther and Meany, in different contexts, typify union leaders who represent a large element of pure leadership, although they are nonetheless products of their special situations. Reuther's leadership needed the scope allowed by a dynamic growth industry. Meany needed a labor movement with numbers and influence.
Walter Reuther, as the representative figure of modern American industrial unionism, was a synthesis of traditional business and socialist unionism. He was the collective bargaining pace-setter of the postwar period. It is no diminution of John L. Lewis's stature to say that his major impact came in the industrial union breakthrough at the start of this period but was found wanting thereafter. Reuther, by contrast, put his imprint on virtually every landmark in collective bargaining and trade unionism throughout this period. The UAW's health care and pension policies transformed the structure of employee compensation. To be sure, Lewis had gotten it first, but in Reuther's hands it became a program and a policy--characteristic words in his vocabulary--not a gamble. Reuther dramatized the relevance of technological change--"automation"--to collective bargaining as did no other union leader. No other union, either, faced up more squarely to the issue of communist penetration.
In the internal affairs of trade unionism the UAW under Reuther gave new content and meaning to workers' education, union democracy, skilled-worker representation, and civil rights at the workplace. He was the first union leader to raise the question of compatibility between collective bargaining and consumer prices: "We are not going to operate as a narrow economic pressure group which says, 'We are going to get ours and the public be damned.'" Whatever the temperamental qualities which may have been served thereby, strategically, Reuther's public relations acted to advance both rank-and-file and public understanding of the union's programs.
The new labor federation represented both historic continuities and contrasts. The most striking contrast with the past was the constitutional power conferred on the federation to deal with corruption, discrimination, and jurisdictional conflict in national union affiliates. Intervention by previous federation presidents had not been uncommon, but intervention was based on prestige of office and not on constitutional authority. Also noteworthy was labor leadership's acceptance of impartial outsiders functioning as quasi-judges in jurisdictional disputes--a field once regarded as the labor movement's own business.
Classical Gompers voluntarism--the labor movement's version of laissez-faire--was almost completely abandoned. Public policy began to occupy a central place on the unions' agenda. Only in respect to political nonpartisanship has the federation adhered to traditional ideology in the sense that it is formally neutral with respect to Democrats and Republicans. Much of this neutrality, however, is more formal than real because the labor movement has been, in a sense, a kind of union party within the national Democratic Party and many state Democratic parties, although a few enclaves of union influence exist in Republican state and local parties. The present union nonpartisanship is supported by a going political concern managed by union leaders who "belong" in the circles of political power. Nothing like this existed under the pre-1933 nonpartisanship, and it has constituted a difference in degree which has become a difference in kind.
The abandonment of voluntarism reflected the change in the underlying situation. Before voluntarism had become an unyielding dogma, the distrust of government intervention in economic affairs was derived from actual experience with government as a class state. Thus, for the Gompers era the state represented the ex-parte injunction, the "yellow dog" contract, and the use of the military as strikebreakers. It was John L. Lewis's special genius that he recognized and acted on the possibility that the state could also be responsive to the workers' mass political movement. The state could mean Wagner acts, social security, wage-hour laws, and full employment, as well as coercive power directed against unions.
Containment of unions by legal intervention advanced further with the enactment in 1959 of the Landrum-Griffin law. Where Taft-Hartley had addressed itself largely to containing union power in collective bargaining, Landrum-Griffin focused major attention on the relationship between union leaders and members. Landrum-Griffin's approach to containment consisted of (1) a "bill of rights" for union members,(2) disclosure requirements for unions and union officers in respect to finances and possible "conflict of interest" transactions, (3) protections against improper trusteeships, and (4) safeguards against manipulation of union elections to favor incumbents.
The main target of the Landrum-Griffin law was the Teamsters and its then president, James R. Hoffa. The groundwork had been laid in an extensive investigation by a U.S. Senate committee chaired by Senator John McClellan of Arkansas, with Robert F. Kennedy as chief counsel. The investigation established a pattern for several unions of personal aggrandizement and enrichment through racketeering, penetration of racket control, use of union funds for personal business, and conflict-of-interest transactions between employers and employer "middlemen." In union internal affairs the investigators found abuses in democratic processes including coercion and intimidation of dissenting members, election frauds, and gross violations of members' civil rights.
The experience of Landrum-Griffin in the decade and a half of its operations suggests that the prohibited practices were marginal occurrences, but needed to be dealt with through public authority. No endemic problem of financial and democratic wrongdoing is apparent in American unions, if litigation under Landrum-Griffin is any guide. The law's most significant impact has been to make the position of challengers to incumbent officers more tenable. The relatively large turnover of union officers at all levels is mainly due to a wave of membership discontent stemming from the economic uncertainties of the times, but the availability of Landrum-Griffin remedies has made it more likely that the discontent can be asserted through union political processes without unduly favoring incumbents. Serious questions have been raised as to whether racket penetration has been effectively eliminated. The mysterious disappearance of Hoffa in 1975 is a dramatic indication that it has not.
In the late 1950s many union leaders became convinced that containment did not derive solely from government intervention; it was also functioning as a calculated management strategy. "Hard line," "hardening of attitudes", "hard bargaining," "stiffening of attitude by employers" variously expressed the temper of this strategy. A. H. Raskin of the New York Times saw a threat of "class warfare--low voltage, nonviolent but nonetheless destructive in its implications for industrial democracy." According to the hard-line model, automation was a management bargaining tactic, as were the management demands for major work rule changes notable in steel and railroads, contracting-out, tougher production standards, and plant relocations away from the centers of union concentration. The object of management's tougher bargaining stance was to recapture some of the rights surrendered, as business perceived it, during the "soft" bargaining of World War II and after.
Even as the unions were getting it from all sides, they were also remaking the worker's relation to his job and his employer. Landmark events included:
1950: UAW and GM negotiate five-year contract with pension, escalator clauses, annual improvement factor, and union shop.
Late 1950s: UAW and International Harvester experiment with methods of "deformalizing" grievance and arbitration procedures.
1954-55: UAW, USW, IUE, and URW advance guaranteed annual wage proposals which evolve into supplementary unemployment compensation plans.
1956: UMW opens ten new hospitals in Appalachia financed by the UMWA Retirement and Welfare Fund.
1959: Armour and Packinghouse Workers and Amalgamated Meat Cutters negotiate automation fund.
1959: USW and Kaiser Corporation establish Long Range Committee charged with considering "a long range plan for the equitable sharing of the company's progress between the stockholders, the employees and the public."
1960: Pacific Maritime Association and the West Coast longshore union under Harry Bridges conclude an historic "productivity bargaining" compact in which the quid pro quos are job security and relaxation of restrictive working rules.
1960: USW and basic steel industry establish Human Relations Research Committee.
1961: UAW and American Motors establish a profit sharing, "progress-sharing" fund including an annual improvement factor and joint conference.
These experiments, in view of the complex nature of the problems being probed, did not always work out. Nevertheless, they did give witness to the vitality of collective bargaining as a vehicle both for channeling conflict and solving problems.
Another major watershed during this period was the gradual but material progress in building a comprehensive scheme of private social security through collective bargaining out of the piecemeal "fringe benefits" beginnings of the War Labor Board days. The program consisted of two major components: (1) offsets against wage losses due to illness, death, old age, and unemployment, and (2) insurance against the costs associated with illness; or to put it differently, health insurance, sick pay, pensions, supplemental unemployment benefits, and life insurance.
At first the trade unions sought to secure these benefits by the Wagner-Murray-Dingell bill in 1945-46; failing, the unions turned to stepwise improvement through collective bargaining--specifically: (1) preservation of the real value of existing benefits against erosion by rising costs; (2) deepening the protection afford by existing benefits--example: increasing hospitalization days; (3) spinning off new benefits, i.e., severance pay from SUB, diagnosis, medical care, dental care, etc., from the original hospitalization and surgical care; (4) shifting financing of benefits from employee to employer; (5) development of new institutions, skills, and professions to negotiate, evaluate, and administer the benefits.
Despite the automation debate--perhaps because of it--collective bargaining has, on the whole, worked well in accommodating to technological change. The methods of accommodation have included negotiation, attrition, gain sharing, transition procedures, and "buyout" or productivity bargaining. Collective bargaining appears to have established the general principle that employees have an equitable interest in their existing job conditions, and in the event of material impairment of this interest by technological change, merger, or relocation, the employee has a legitimate claim on his employer to offset in whole or in part the losses suffered as a consequence. Union-management confrontations over technology were most serious during this period in newspaper printing, railroading, and East Coast longshoring.
Grievance arbitration, also from War Labor Board momentum, became firmly established as a prime feature of the collective bargaining process. Although a working consensus among the participants has evolved, the unions have not hesitated to voice strenuous criticisms of the excessive cost, legalism, and delay which characterize the grievance-arbitration process. Managements have been critical of the arbitrator's "usurpation" of authority and the union's tendency to use grievance handling for its internal political purposes. There is recognition, however, of the common stake in the effectiveness of the process.
Containment there may have been in the dimensions of union membership and labor force penetration, but in collective bargaining, internal union affairs, and influence in politics and public policy the trade unions managed to stake out new and higher ground.
Renewal as the theme of union development from the mid-1960s on has meant that trade union membership recovered momentum mainly through a large infusion of public and quasi-public employee membership in the '60s and '70s. Tendencies which emerged in the period of containment continued over into renewal. The rank and file pressed their claims for self-determination more insistently and militantly. Check and balance from below became not only a constitutional fact but a working reality which a union leader ignored at his peril. Also in this period the state intervened in labor relations from a standpoint of positive public policy.
Renewal as the dominant theme of union development from the mid-1960s on has reflected the increase in union membership in each year but one since 1964. Even so, union membership has not kept pace with growth in the labor force and nonagricultural employment. The recruitment of white-collar workers (outside of government) into union membership produced meager results. Women account for a constantly rising percentage of union membership. But the dynamic element in union membership in this period was the government sector, which since 1956 has consistently gained both in number and percentage.
The upsurge of public unionism in the postindustrial era reflected the enormous expansion of employment in state and local government. Moreover, the momentum was initially generated by laws and executive orders which protected and encouraged unionization and collective bargaining. These encouraging laws must have tapped deep reservoirs of sentiment to have evoked such volatile responses. The public sector spark was first lighted by Mayor Wagner's recognition of public employees bargaining in New York City in 1959 and President Kennedy's promulgation of Executive Order 10988 in early 1962. This set off a tide of other legislation. Some states enacted their laws under the forced draft of employee militancy.
Another large influence on the eruption of public employee unionism was the almost decade-long uninterrupted period of economic expansion which gave governments the revenues with which to meet union demands for increased salaries and permitted the unions to demonstrate the efficacy of collective bargaining to their constituents. The high-level employment of the period also encouraged public employees to take risks in unionizing because other jobs were likely to be available if they lost.
The public sector eruption has been notable for the militancy of its "brinkmanship" strikes, of doctors, nurses, hospital workers, police, firefighters, sanitation workers, teachers, welfare workers; and among federal employees, air traffic controllers and postal employees. In the 1974-75 period of recession and inflation, the major strike issue was the deterioration of real wages and the severity of retrenchment layoffs in the cities.
Public sector unionism has been guided for the most part by union leaders with temperaments to match this spirit of the times. Albert Shanker moved up the ranks of teacher unionism and the larger labor movement. He has contended with all of the forces acting on urban education: from one direction the militant demands of teacher unions for job security and a kind of "codetermination" in educational policy; from the other the insistent pressures for community control, economy and efficiency, and preferential treatment in the recruitment and advancement of minority teachers. The media have pictured Shanker as a power machine, and almost no piece about him is complete without reference to his observation that "power is a good thing; it's better than powerlessness." But Shanker is more than a power machine. The point is that his style seems, from the teachers' viewpoint, to have paid off and galvanized all other teacher militancy.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has produced notable militants in public sector unionism: Jerry Wurf, the union's president, succeeded Arnold Zander, its founder. The union under Zander was a prototype of the civil service union. Collective bargaining and striking were not rejected, but they were not primary either. Instead, in common with other government unions, AFSCME relied mainly on lobbying--"collective begging," as it was derisively called--for civil service legislation, the merit system, and legislative salary increases. Zander also put much effort on the formation of the Public Service International and the establishment of housing projects for union members.
Wurf reorganized AFSCME activity toward more direct collective bargaining, more militant unionism, and a more activist political style. He has "taken giant steps to change the tone and nature of this organization and to make it a real trade union with marrow in its bones and blood in its arteries." Strikes have become an essential part of that militancy and "the right to strike," excluding only police and firefighters, is something that Wurf, as he says "fights bitterly for."
Under Wurf the national union headquarters has taken on the new dynamism with which he has sought to permeate the organization. Organizing, bargaining, political and legislative action, education, staff training, civil rights have all become staff specializations infused with Wurf's hard-driving temperament. If there is such a thing as an "opposition" on the AFL-CIO Executive Council, Wurf is it. He has made well known his discontents with the political orientation of AFL-CIO and with the fragmentation of jurisdiction in the public sector. Legislative alliances with the National Education Association are part of that opposition role.
Many of the public sector unions in state and local government are for the first time also unionizing low wage workers--black, Mexican-American, and Puerto Rican. The Laborers and Service Employees, have also emerged as major growth unions with an organizing centered leadership organizing workers who used to be considered "unorganizable."
Outside of the public sector the major upheaval has been among migrant agricultural workers. Under the leadership of Cesar Chavez, the economic and social structure of mass production agriculture in California is being remade. In the "factories in the field" of California, he built unionism by imbuing Chicano workers with racial pride and by making the union into a way of life for his people. He marshaled massive outside aid from the larger labor movement, most notably the AFL-CIO and the UAW, and also from the Catholic Church. From committed young people he organized a kind of Peace Corps. The maintenance of the union and its auxiliary cooperatives and the powerful consumer boycott would not have been possible without this outside aid.
Chavez's ascetic life-style has had much to do with elevating farm unionism into an epic struggle. His La Causa appears more as a revolutionary and racial upheaval than a bargaining union, but is the weak side of his strength as far as trade unionism is concerned. Chavez has also had to take on the more formidable Teamsters who, if a union has to be in the fields, is preferred by the growers. More than unionism is needed, in Chavez's philosophy: What is required is "a movement ... an idea" by which the Chicano workers can achieve salvation on their own power.
On the other side of the wage spectrum, unions of professional athletes seek liberation from the feudal- like ties which have bound them to employers.
In the 1960s a new public policy asserted a positive line independent of the established pressure groups. The issues of civil rights, manpower, and inflation, representing the fuller development of position public policy, edged the traditional union vs. management questions from the center of the policy arena. Manpower policy as embodied in the series of manpower acts from 1961 on enhanced the interests of both unions and management by (1) increasing worker productivity and mobility through education, training, retraining, and guidance, and by (2) strengthening the institutions of the labor market to achieve a better fit between the structure of supply and the structure of demand. In its early phase manpower policy responded to the immediate urgencies of depressed areas, youth unemployment, technological unemployment and the competitively disadvantaged. In its later phase manpower policy culminated in the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) which sought to establish a "coherent, flexible national manpower policy."
Public policy in the employment aspects of civil rights is embodied mainly in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and in the President's authority to prescribe standards for federal procurement. Enforced both against management and unions, the policy reflected the impact of a rising pressure group, the civil rights movement. Groups like the NAACP and urban coalitions could bargain with the traditional bargainers over seniority and recruitment of minority entrants. The rising numbers of black workers in unions made them an internal force to contend with.
In its reactive stage, civil rights policy moved to prohibit discrimination in employment. But the reactive policy of no-discrimination proved not to be sufficient in actually bringing together the black worker and the job. The positive phase of civil rights policy is demonstrated in the concepts of "outreach" and "affirmative action" and the restructuring of discriminatory seniority systems. These concepts establish the principle that policy objectives are not fulfilled simply by creating normal market incentives. Incentives alone have, in fact, proved to be inadequate to bring many black workers to the jobs.
Positive public policy appears to assert an unprecedented peacetime concern with the results of collective bargaining and trade unionism. The Norris-LaGuardia, Wagner, Taft-Hartley, and Landrum-Griffin expressions of public policy operated on the theory that the regulation of the processes of collective bargaining and unionism would be sufficient. Wage-price policy, civil rights, and manpower, by contrast, undertake to define publicly acceptable results of collective bargaining and unionism. The underlying assumption of wage-price policy is that even balanced collective bargaining, left to go its own way, is likely to yield economic results incompatible with a stable price level, a strong balance of payments position, economic growth, and economic recovery. Deflation, incomes policy, wage controls, "jawboning" wage and price freezes are the recurring techniques which the government has used to intervene in collective bargaining with uneven results.
Similarly, the civil rights policy raises the question whether social peace does not require public intervention to protect the interests of minority workers from the discriminatory effects of agreements negotiated by the "white" bargaining parties. Manpower policy weighs results of the union-management relationship at the points of apprenticeship and other training terms which restrict entry in ways inconsistent with public policy interests in freer mobility. The reasoning is that the negotiations between the private parties do not take into sufficient account the social costs of their bargaining results and that intervention is essential to make adjustments congruent with positive public policy.
Positive public policy has by no means displaced pressure group interests. It is rather a case of coexistence. The parties to National Labor Relations Board proceedings perceive Republican appointees to the board as more likely to be employer-leaning in their decisions than are Democratic appointees, and vice versa. Unions engaged in strikes may seek intervention to get themselves off a hook. Employers have lobbied vigorously against stringent enforcement of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. But the key public policies toward labor of full employment, civil rights, manpower, and wages and prices are as likely to represent an autonomous positive line than a response to pressure group insistence.
The boundaries of positive public policy are being further extended into pension reform and occupational health and safety areas. The Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, better known as the Pension Reform Act, will require a substantial recasting of negotiated pension programs to assure that covered employees will have their promised pension when they retire. Basic to the law are minimum vesting and funding standards designed to assure that a worker who participates in a private pension plan for many years will not lose all pension credits because employment was terminated before retirement or because employer-employee contributions were not adequate to pay the benefits promised.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act is less clear as an example of positive public policy. The unions came to the safety and health campaign relatively late, fearing its negative effect on wages and the supply of jobs. In the management view, OSHA authorizes the most extensive federal intervention in day-to-day plant operations of any previous legislation. Inspectors are authorized to check company compliance with the law, the availability of safety programs including training, and the good faith with which management enforces these programs. The act creates new rights for unions and workers who have to be informed of inspections and violations and the remedial actions taken. In sum, unions and employees have rights in connection with enforcement which they never had before under law. Much of what the law compels might have been achieved through negotiation in the past if health and safety had been given a higher priority. "In the past," according to a union specialist in the field, "the union practice, more often than not, was to trade and barter its safety and health demands for a couple of cents an hour in wages." The consciousness-raising of OSHA has pushed job health and safety up on the bargaining agenda.
A rank-and-file unrest has permeated the work situation since the early 1960s. This sort of unrest seems to have been evident in five kinds of settings in this period: (1) strikes, especially "wildcats," during the life of an agreement, and other forms of employee direct action such as slowdowns, mass sick leave, and sit-ins-much of it in the public sector; (2) eruption of new union militancy in the public sector; (3) pressures from below for changes in collective bargaining policies, as in the skilled workers' rebelliousness in the industrial unions, and contract rejections; (4) pressures from below for a greater say in union affairs, as evidenced in the defeat of well-established union incumbents--the defeat of David J. McDonald in the Steelworkers and the end of the John L. Lewis tradition of control with the election of Arnold Miller are symbolic of this turn of events; and (5) heightened race consciousness on the shop floor. Strikes during the term of the agreement (an undetermined proportion are actually wildcats) represented more than a third of all the 1960 stoppages, and the percentage has, been rising steadily.
One aspect of rank-and-file unrest goes back to the "hard line" of the recession of 1957-58 which gave management the bargaining power to tighten work standards, discipline, and manpower utilization--all perceived as threats to job security. The "hard line" encounter demonstrated the tenacity with which rank and file was ready to fight for job protection when threatened by sudden changes in work rules and technology. It was at this time that observers began to detect a new rank-and-file countervailing power. David Cole called attention, in the spring of 1960, to the "rebelliousness and nonconformance within the labor movement now that we did not see even as recently as five years ago. This is a form of anticolonialism that the locals are asserting... International unions who recognize the importance of having some orderly procedures for the settlement of these horrible jurisdictional disputes . . . find themselves overruled time and again by their regional and local people."
Economic expansion increased employment and raised employee expectations. The accelerated expansion of public employment provided much of the leverage for the outburst of militancy among public employees. Similarly, employment expansion induced discontent among private-sector workers when they began to measure their earnings against their employers' profits and the rise in the cost of living; and among skilled workers, specifically, who saw their position worsening in respect to both their job inferiors in the shop and their job peers outside. When expansion reached the inflationary stage, unrest arose as protest against wage controls which sought to dampen wage inflation.
Uncertain tendencies in industrial relations fueled shop-floor discontent. Long-term contracts allowed longer periods for maladjustments to build up. Legalistic grievance systems screened complaints too finely, and terms of collective bargaining like health, pensions, and work guarantees became increasingly more difficult for the average union member to grasp. The larger complement of younger workers has been less inclined to put up with established ways in the job and union, especially the seniority system.
Unionism is necessarily a reacting institution; the major initiatives which affect the union lie with the enterprise and the state. The major theme that runs through the 1960s and '70s is the adaptation of collective bargaining and unionism to the increasing demands of public policy and public interests. The state regulates the results as well as the process of collective bargaining at job, industry, and economy levels. Unionism has made great strides in this period. Lessening the tensions incident to employment, it eased the harshness of the hierarchical organization in industry by introducing rights, orderly procedures, and a measure of self-determination at work. It has made feasible higher standards of consumption for working people. Unionism's shock effect has prodded management in general, whether unionized or not, to assume a more human conception of its role and a more efficient management of its labor force.