The State of Unions | Letters | Chicago Reader

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The State of Unions


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Dear Reader,

A few thoughts/questions for Tom Frank and Dave Mulcahey, prompted by "This Is War" (January 20):

Who had command of the world economy before business took "virtual command"?

Don't you have any comment on union mergers and takeovers (of each other)?

Don't Staley's unions have work rules/jurisdiction written into their contracts to prevent workers from being assigned to other unions' jobs, or to jobs they are not qualified for?

Twelve-hour shifts are represented as a huge step backward; as an injustice. But, this is not a return to 60- or 72-hour workweeks. In fact, many workers welcome longer shifts, since they result in longer "weekends." You also wrongly imply that "elimination" of a shift eliminates workers.

Perhaps unions oppose "empowerment" because they need an adversarial relationship in order to justify their existence.

You missed a chance to dis the Trib when you quoted it.

Ray Rogers's "Point Z" is the closing of the plant, and subsequent elimination of (union) jobs. What if the company called his bluff?

Steven Ashby "reach[ing] out to the African American community" would not be necessary if unions didn't actively discriminate against blacks.

It's wrong for business to collude, but it's okay for unions to pattern bargain. Then again, the theme of the article is the elimination of competition and the imposition of socialism. (Actually, hasn't socialism pretty much discredited itself?)

"Value added" does not equal "pure profit." Hence the assertion of $200-per-hour pure profit is false.

While the average revenue growth was 8.8 percent, what was the average wage growth? (How about some context?)

The Wobblies (IWW) are continually cited. Do the rank and file really know/support the Wobblies' philosophy of anarchy and complete socialism? Hell, do Frank and Mulcahey? (Oh, never mind.)

"Mysterious" that Cat was shut down on a Saturday during a strike?

Isn't it a little late for unions to be losing their "lethargy and complacency" of recent years?

"Who knows how she [TV anchor] explained it to her audience." What, you can't find a television?

Why no mention of the two-tier wage structures that (at least some of) these supposedly selfless unions have agreed to?

Of course, none of these unions threaten or intimidate their members into compliance with slowdowns or strikes. And, I'm sure there hasn't been any union-sanctioned violence in Decatur. They must only subscribe to the Wobblies' nonviolent doctrines.

The era when union leaders "took what they could get for themselves" is over(?). Couldn't it have been ended years ago by voting them out of office?

Hard to believe that all the truck drivers, railroad workers, etc crossing the picket lines are nonunion.

It's nice that all the self-proclaimed experts are around to advise the unions on how to lose their jobs. Are these "'experts" giving up their paychecks in "solidarity" with the unions? Will the experts still be there next year if the strikes/lockouts are still in effect?

Oh, and what union are Tom Frank and Dave Mulcahey members of?

Steve Phillips


Dave Mulcahey and Tom Frank reply:

Staley workers have aways had work rules written into their contracts with the company, but workers often feel too intimidated by management to file grievances or complain about the violation of work rules already in place. Systematic intimidation of union activists is the major reason for the Caterpillar walkout.

Phillips's claim that "many workers welcome longer shifts" is wildly speculative and simply wrong. A longer weekend is little compensation for the clinical depression, disrupted menstrual cycles, marital strain, and shorter life spans that come with rotating 12-hour shifts. Workers overwhelmingly characterized the introduction of these shifts as a strategy to increase work-force attrition and eliminate the more senior and highly paid Staley employees.

"Value added" is the value of a product sold less the cost of intermediate products bought from outside suppliers. In the corn wet milling industry that figure is $526,758 per worker per year, among the highest for any manufacturing industry. The point of citing this statistic and the corn wet milling industry's phenomenally high rate of revenue growth is merely to show that Staley's excuse for union-busting--competitive pressure--is dubious at best.

We do not identify Decatur's struggling workers with "the Wobblies' philosophy of anarchy and complete socialism," although they have adapted many of the IWW's slogans and tactics. We do say that they are "struggling to reclaim the populist myth at the heart of the American imagination," a sentiment one would guess even red-baiters like Phillips would have trouble denouncing.

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