Unions: Can Unions Be Democratic? Some Are

Unions: Can Unions Be Democratic? Some Are

David Carper derides the “fashionable fallacies” of those who “dissent against unions” but he has compiled a bulging anthology of his own. Consider his comments on union democracy.

It is false, all false, he argues, that “unions are less democratic today than they once were.” Does he mean to say that unions are democratic today? Not particularly. He merely insists that it is naive to think they ever were. What is he driving at? The “dissenter” whom he might convince would simply abandon the notion that unions are no longer democratic for the far more drastic one that they never have been. All of which would be depressing, if true. But it is false, all false.

Democracy in unions as in society at large, is a matter for constant effort, its forms decay and need to be reestablished. The United Mine Workers which once could boast of a vigorous democracy is now bureaucratized; the International Ladies Garment Workers Union lost the lively democracy that prevailed at least into the postWorld War I period. The AFL was once accustomed to spirited debates; now custom prescribes a public unanimity among Federation officials.

In Teamsters Local 107 in Philadelphia, men who opposed a forcible seizure of their union by thugs were beaten with lead pipes. One elected officer, in fear of his life, was physically chased out of his office. In the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, it was a crime (before Lan...

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