Making Them Flinch: Five Riddles for the Labor Movement

Making Them Flinch: Five Riddles for the Labor Movement

How successfully has the American labor movement revived since John Sweeney took the reins a year and a half ago? One measure is the return of full-throated labor bashing in our public life. For the past generation or so, attacking unions had been a stealthy (if lucrative) business. Consulting firms and think tanks would whisper formulas for busting unions into the ears of managers and state legislators—but rarely felt the urge to take their cause to the public. Today, however, you can hardly turn on CNN without seeing Republican apparatchiks shouting oaths at “Big Labor” or “left-wing labor bosses.” And Jack Welch, the CEO of General Electric, recently mailed a videotape of himself, Mission: Impossible-style, to thousands of GE managers, imploring them to mount the barricades in advance of contract talks: “We don’t need some third party to give people voice and dignity,” proclaims the $22 million-a-year chairman. “You better get prepared like you have never been prepared. . . .We get monthly updates . . . as to how you are going to operate. We’ll show the world how we can operate in a strike and not flinch if that’s what happens.”

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