The future of; 16; The Future of Organized Labor
From WMUR found in Washington D.C. the future on another in a series of discussions of alternative futures. Your moderator is Joe coach of the world future society. Mr. Coates Good evening this is Joe codes for the world Futures Society bring you another in a series of discussions of alternative futures the subject with this evening's discussion is the future of organized labor. We have with who's done Ellinger political director of the machinist union of America. One might take a tip from the from the ad that says you've come a long way baby. It seems to me that an organized labor has come a long way from the days when the Pinkertons hunted down the Molly Maguires to the day when the director of the FBI can congratulate George Meany top dog in organized labor for being a great American. Many interpret this as the mark of middle age if not senility of a moribund tendency in organized labor. Others perhaps would see organized labor not as part of the solution but part of the problem of American
society. Well perhaps we can explore the myths and the realities behind these widely felt sentiments. What is the status of labor today. Are 18 million of us in the country that are members of trade unions. And through other organisations are able to make a better living for their families and make better contributions to the country. I personally am dissatisfied with the degree of organisation we should be doing better. We hope to do better. I view the last. Three Decades of the labor movement in which I have been a part as. Just a prelude. I think rather than a part of the problem we're probably the only viable part of the solution. Let more Americans meet together in their local union halls make decisions about their own lives
and participate in the democratic process and any other institution in the country. Do you think of the country. You tell me there are 18 million of the 70 million workers in the next seventy two million people in United States work for somebody else government or Farmall or about 18 million of those are in what we consider legitimate unions by illegitimate I mean again this is a company dominated or as a farce a fraud and there are perhaps a million such million people in the country in such unions. We don't recognize them as victims of sweetheart contracts right in there and are not actually in the labor movement there. I haven't a card which means very little. We consider him a Union man as a man that has by virtue of his organization. Evelyn he says that he didn't have here is back. He has learned to use that voice effectively but they've extended the hand of help to the underprivileged in the country. The
much of the legislation which is passed in Congress which is hailed as a help to the. Less Fortunate has been labor sponsored a labor initiated from the Social Security Act. Only through Mr. Ayling when you talk about organized labor in the labor movement it suggests that there are goals and I wonder over this 30 year or a longer period of the labor movement have the goals remain the same. What are they. I think the goals are primarily the same goals that the men started out to build the institution that now exists. They were attempting to improve the conditions under which they worked from wages to safety to dignity and to make sure that the workplace itself was a something which they had a voice they were part of the process by which the decisions were made. They were trying to improve their own families and thereby the families of all people
when we went for Social Security we didn't do it for just union people. The minimum wage is not just for union people. Medicare not just for union people but for everybody because we believe that our families. Can only be prosperous and stable and a country that's prosperous and stable. Do you have a goal or have you had a continuing go of organizing everyone or is only certain cut of society you concerned with no way of organizing the UN organize has been the slogan of the labor movement since the inception of it. Because again no wage no matter how high or how well protected is safe if there are hungry people and people out of work and people who would possibly take that job or perform that work for a lesser service. So it's to everybody's interest to pull those wages up. Why does that include when you say organizing organizers that include doctors and lawyers and so forth there are too damn well organized now.
Yeah. Do I detect glimmers of class conflict here. No I just of the doctors as a group who oppose the minimum wage oppose security oppose Medicare and yet have the tightest control are probably as anti-social as any group in the nation. They're probably the premier negative or aggressive force in the country today organized medicine. Yes. And you have a second choice I mean if we don't buy that do we have a fallback position. You know. I really I would allow them to have it without much of a contest. But seriously are there enemies of organized labor today. Oh of course. John Birch Society. Many of the conservative Republicans in this country. Interesting enough fewer employers are now as violently any labor as there used to be. If I found that paying working men a decent wage and having
stability in agreements and their jobs actually has made them more money and some of the biggest employers in the country wouldn't think of operating without a union. Doesn't that again fulfill one of the general goals of society of giving stability to the economy. Yes and the fact that we can now sit down with General Motors and negotiate an agreement without near revolution and in 1937 just for the right to sit down. It took a hundred day strike not to get anything not to get wages but just to get the company to sit down with the labor movement. This is great progress and good for the kind of. I recall Bill Murray I think it was you said when I was a boy that knew that the goal of the labor movement was music in the home and carpets on the floor. To a substantial degree this has been achieved I don't think there's any question about that. For organized labor. But as a consequence of that achievement having you become essentially
complacent and haven't you lost the vitality of the movement of 30 40 50 years ago. You know that canard is kicked around the country and pushed up by all kinds of people affect is the labor boom of the day is more effective more aggressive more assertive of the rights of all the people of the country than ever before in history. People talk about the 1930s and a romantic way who weren't there the boys hanging on the gates of the General Motors plant in 137. We're trying to build a union. Now the desperate acts that they took to sitting down in the plans was necessary because of the recalcitrance of the employer. You absolutely refuse to even deal with them. We no longer have to do that. But if those same General Motors workers are out on the picket line still tonight a lot agreement is ratified who negotiated benefits the Social Security benefits which we have were able to provide because they were intelligent enough to put in their pension program and also
set against the Social Security to encourage the whole country. And as a result I would say without any question the labor movement today is in the forefront of every battle for civil rights for farm workers for education of low income kids. But that just doesn't square with much of the public testimony which may be an error. For example maybe an error is deliberate false a vocational let's not only Let's look at some of the specific charges against the alleged fat and sassy organized labor. There's the common charge of racism that if you're black if you're a Chicano if you have any sort of color you can't get into skilled unions. Let's look at this the alleged neglect of the hospital workers of the farm workers of the Southern laborers that organized labor hasn't turned its full guns to their behalf. This is said by people generally who haven't done wondering thing about anything as far as the same groups of people. Hospital workers are hard to organize. Why. Well
several reasons are low skilled. They're usually in sheltered institutions like private hospitals there's not a profit making institution by and large. The employer is hard pressed for money and he's willing to take it out as they usually do when the least protected group of people we have organize we have that's a statement of the problem. Now what have you done to solve it. We have organized probably more hospital workers in the last 20 years 30 in the last 10 than ever before in history. For the first time with the whole health of the AFL CIO we have had a real breakthrough in the farm field. It was easy labor member who organized labor I thought he was an outlander. So here's a job this has been a member of the Farm Workers Union for 10 years he's been on the staff they have felt CIO during the whole period of this battle. He and his whole group have been an organizing committee which has been in existence since 1947. Now the breakthrough came because labor organized the great boycott Chavez was a
hero and the leader of it. But was every somebody all over the country. How's these people put paid for their operation and help pick up the stores to get the grapes out before it reached the level of boycotting picketing how many bucks did organized labor actually put on the line to help organize the farm workers. I'm sorry I can't give you know we talking the order of thousands no millions millions millions since 1947. It would it would be in the millions I judge many could give you the figure because that's where the money has come from. What about the other frequent charge against organized labor namely that it's there are going to be racist and exclusionary that nepotism is rampant and you don't have a chance if you're an outsider there are different issues you bring up. I would not say that the million members the Machinists Union are all on the right side on the race battle. I would say that the official position of the Union is that no local union can discriminate
without having international intervene. There we have approximately 200000 negro members out of a million which is about 5 percent over their percentage of the total population. We've had some employers have been very cooperative and very willing to work to bring in minorities both Mexican and they go. Others have not been. We don't control the hiring process. The aircraft country the company the airline company the railroad makes the decision. We organize them after they get there. But what about those unions that did operate under an apprentice where clearly you do control access to the job. Let's again Aleutian apprentice programs do not the local union does not control the apprentice as a joint apprentice program. There are no apprentice programs in which the union is the sole criteria. The union member must help that apprentice learn his trade as I do in our trade.
But the applicants that are. Screen or screen by a joint committee. They must be meet the employer's qualifications of because he's making a tremendous investment. The employer makes a real investment in an Apprentice because he has the training. He doesn't get to use it as a production worker. In our industry he has to learn every machine on the floor of the shop to become competent and every machine and understand it be able to read threads and specs in order to handle that and this costs the employer money. Actually on nepotism frankly a son of a machinist would have a far better chance of scoring high on the examination than someone that has never been around metalworking. But that would be just as true of the son of a black machinist as a son of a white machinist because he gets a day and night at the supper table. But the problem is how do they how do they break into the circle. How is it
organized labor doesn't help them along the way. How does the depressed worker of the excluded worker ever get an opportunity to break in. All right now for instance there are apprenticeships in every machine tool center in the country and every airline. Not railroads because they're not hiring people as any major labor union ever gone on strike on the basis of an attempt to include blacks which economies of Puerto Rican. Oh I'm sure they have but you can't recall an incident which I think is in itself instructive. No I just think we don't go on strike to include Italians Irish anybody else. The employment 95 percent of the American working force is hired by employers not by unions. They first must get a job before we can organize that we don't go on strike against Boeing to tell them who to hire. Just not our function.
Now bowling has been a pretty good employer. They've laid everybody off right now. OK 35000 of our members are out of work. Really young your machinist mother machinist members and the Boeing company have gone from a hundred and thirty five hundred thirty eight thousand two hundred three thousand in two years and that's a tremendous loss. And some of them people have been laid off are black and some are white and it's right along with that contract term. How long have you been there and can you do the work. But if a man of a minority group felt he was discriminated against in his layoff he has got exactly that same grievance right and the union will go right to bat for him. And again this isn't because of color. But if they discriminate against one man and remove his seniority then they get everybody else. So that the question you've got to protect everybody you know protect anybody. It really does. Let's shift gears now and move from the past in the present a little more frankly into the future. Are there assuming as you stated that the goals are essentially the same as they were a generation ago.
Are there new factors or patterns in the economy or in the society that are raising basic new issues in organized labor. I wouldn't consider them basic new issues. I think that the American economy will continue to have a very substantial private sector. I think that public sector will continue to increase and governmental policies will affect the private sector in a greater way. But we're moving toward a more regulated economy that's really what you're saying and that many of the basic industries will have further governmental regulation. So I think these things are going to happen since the government becomes more important to that average guy in the shop his family the labor movement going to become more active politically Our opposition is going to try to stop us from being an effective political force. As a matter of fact they are their main target. So we will have a struggle about this.
I believe the labor movement will become stronger in the political field and this will be a trend. We are there now in that within that trend. Are there interesting sub patterns so to speak. Is the political temper of organized labor becoming more conservative. For example does the hardhat movement in quotes herald a downturn a move toward conservatism. You know it's a good question to ask I guess because a newspaper has been pulling that line Nixon apparently thought it was true. He got awful surprise out of California when the labor movement backed away and successfully elected a black educator is public and director of public education out there superintendent putting meetings surveyed about the job. Max Rafferty who would be just exactly along the line if there are is a hardhat mentality certainly Max McCarthy. I mean Max Rafferty would have
appealed to it in many places around the country. The labor movement has gone all out. At least Stevenson had tremendous universal support. We were there for Albert Gore before of Yarbrough both of whom we lost. But I would say that looking at the record if you want to objectively have not listened to Eglu or Nixon about what the working people think but what they say themselves by what they say what positions they take who they support and how they voted. There's not a more liberal progressive force in the nation so no liberal can win without us and we want to win. Suppose some of our listeners were interested in getting documentation data on the point you just made. Is there any place they can write to any source of information. Well there are several As far as the machine is a concern and would be glad to supply the
information. It would have been proper to write to you at 13:00 Connecticut Avenue right. Washington D.C. to a sentimentalist of all the people we back to this last election where we put our funds where we put our effort. And if that's a conservative hard to have swing I'm a monkey's uncle. Well how do you deal with what happened in New York where in Queens which traditionally is a working man's Haven which is largely Catholic largely Irish and Italian something like a third of the voters went for Buckley. Well a third of the voters. How many of them are union men. Too many I'm afraid. I think there was an appeal made to a segment we figured in one thousand sixty eight that about 65 percent of our members voted for Humphrey. But 15 percent for Wallace nation over about another 20 percent for Nixon.
Now that's not good. But when the average of the nation was 43 percent and our members voted 65 percent we're not ashamed of it. We're a little embarrassed by that vote for WALLACE But we worked like heck to try to cut it down and succeeded to a degree. But a man just because he's a union man doesn't make him a saint nor sinner but. Politicized it does become important what your temper is. Well it's also know how what percentage of that membership will follow our lead and it's a question we have a big membership a million members. We've got all kinds of people who got Birchers. We've got probably some on the radical left. But I wonder if you could name three radical left labor leaders in the United States that's an interesting test of the of the present status of American labor. Well you can name them but is there anybody in the labor movement for example who is in imminent risk of going to jail for his radicalism the way many people outside the
labor movement are. Well I think the key question of Labor leadership. Actually you have a process by which people get to be leaders and that's getting elected from those members and you're not going to be far out of touch with those members are going to be a leader. Now there are lots of people who have positions of responsibility in the labor movement but you would not call labor leaders that I would consider pretty far left in their political thinking. But from me this is being recorded on a university campus and what the campus considers liberal and radical and what we in the labor of A because they're liberal radical are frequently different things. For example well lifestyle question and whether what rules are applied to personal conduct seems to us very irrelevant. We're not
concerned people do what they do and please we don't think there's any particular virtue in dress or appearance or any sin that we don't find somebody is a liberal because he dresses a particular way. We don't think that's the criteria which I find a number of students do. Well perhaps we could move on to one of the other if not primary or fundamental factors one of the important factors influencing the future of labor. I think you mentioned earlier something about the of the multi nation corporation. Yes this is a big change and since the war American corporations started the biggest of the corporations are moving into actual operation in many foreign countries. They are adding to their production in the United States. Components made in Hong Kong and in various other places where they are extremely low
wages. The American labor movement is considering its response. We have no objection at all to an American company G.E. setting up a plant in Hong Kong. We think they ought to pay the people there what they pay the people that's connected because they can make a profit on the product in Schenectady in silent too. So why don't they pay those same wages there and then to essentially a cloak for protectionism no or are you really focusing on the people both on people here and there. We just think that it is incumbent upon American corporation to pay American wages and if they can make a product and settle at a profit in the United States and American wages then this take that product and make it in the country at lower wages is simply exploiting the people that country is not adding to the wealth if they paid American wages in Hong Kong. The workers there would be buying other American products and this is how we raise the wage scale in the United States we think people in Jackson Mississippi want to
be paid just as much as the people in New York. And it's to our interest in their interest. We think the same thing. And these companies are using their American market and their basic product or the using of the parts of their American products which require difficulty and then taking this work subassemblies and so forth and paying in cases and Hong Kong like 17 cents an hour for the same work is being performed at a profit in the United States for three and a half an hour. So this is pure exploitation. And we're going to try to stop you. What are you the one of the options for dealing with that from the point of you organized labor really just three as we see it one is protectionism stopping the import of goods. And that's a big issue now with textiles and textiles and shoes. We think in the long run this is bad because we are a great exporting nation and we export the things in which we make the highest wages. We export machinery our union
particularly makes most of the computers in the whole world. Are made by American workers at decent wages in the Machinist Union. Well only part of it the Machinists Union unfortunately IBM is not organized but we will get them yet. Yes but the fact is the. That's one way to do it the other way is to go around the world and organize or assist the unions in those places to bring those wages there. GM can pay the same wages in Hong Kong with opinions but actually there isn't any question they can do it. So let's help the unions of those workers in Hong Kong to get those wages and the third thing is to protect the American market which is a form of protectionism. But to say that the higher the wages paid are the nearer parity to American wages a foreign company pays and making a product the lower the tariff will be. So the wages are comparable to be no tariff at all. This would be good produce prices here. Make some more competition but also something that the
American idea of a dignified and well-paid working man could be exported along with the technical know how has American organized labor had any success in the attempts to organize overseas labor. What we have done and aren't we our own union has a man assigned in this field. We have attempted to support and financially help German and British trade unions and some other countries in dealing particularly with American companies. The International metalworkers Federation has a vehicle through which American trade unions have helped their brothers in other countries. Now this has been mainly in the Western nations where that agree of organization is already exists and what they need is a little bit of help. We havent had much luck in really backward countries. It seems to me that one of the interesting things in organized labor at least in the
traditional unions is that they have a fairly if you will well developed rational intellectual base on which to operate. And I wonder if this is the result of the fact that it is a mature movement and that you have in some sense become professionalized as this but you know better on a better footing to deal with your problem. I think it's just been an inevitable consequence of the fact that we were dealing in bargaining with people who use their slide rules to Conason then we had learned how to use a slide rule. We had an economics professor come tell us why we shouldn't get wages so we had to find out what the facts were. The fact is the trade agreement does an enormous amount of internal training of their staff. The local union leadership and necessarily must do so. I don't think it is. I think they're becoming more competent but the circumstances required it rather than that attempt to sit down and say This is therefore good we will teach these people these
new techniques essentially we've got to or we're not going to live. It strikes me curious Mr. Ellinger that we've gone this far nearly a half hour in our discussion and automation hasn't come up. To do we have another myth to slay or is automation a critical issue it's a critical issue and there are real problems connecting with it connected with it. Our concern is that in the progress of industry and its movement toward automating and therefore greater productivity they protect the human beings involved. Workers displaced by an automated process lock themselves be either retrained for other jobs as been done in some industries or it's a governmental responsibility. We have worked on the whole automation question there's no easy solution but the working man can't take the brunt of it. What's the single most important specific thing you would like to see organized labor accomplish let's say in the next five years and the present United States.
Well thank you Mr. Dunne Ellinger for a most provocative and stimulating burnish ment of the image of organized labor. This has been another in a series of discussions presented by the world future society. This is the national educational radio network.
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