New Problems for the Unions

New Problems for the Unions

At the outset a word should be said about the present climate of opinion in relation to trade unions. It has become the fashion, not only among reactionaries but also among liberals, to deprecate “big labor” along with “big business” and “big government.” Many professional people, white-collar workers and even union members generalize far too glibly from the findings of the McClellan Committee. Though the vast majority of the unions have neither been called before this committee nor implicated by its findings, the impression is widely held that labor leaders are mostly power-hungry crooks. The head-fixing instruments of America’s mass media have thereby helped create an image of organized labor as a sinister monopoly and threat.

Anyone writing critically or honestly about the unions runs the risk of seeming to encourage these misconceptions. Yet the fact that there does exist a crisis in the American labor movement makes imperative an honest evaluation of recent developments, in which one tries to avoid being influenced by the illogic of anti-unionism or the publicity of the labor officials.

The present crisis of the American labor movement results from factors such as these:

• the impact of automation
• the decentralization of factory operations in mass production industries
• the changing composition of the labor force
• the “pockets of permanent depression” in Michigan, Kentucky and other areas
• the eventual collapse of organization drives not only in the South but also in northern industrial regions
• the impact of economic cycles on collective bargaining innovations
• and the loss of elan and idealism in the ranks. Some of these problems are discussed in other articles in this issue and so I shall pass them by. Some require more space than I have. A few I shall comment on.