US – Economy – Unions Should Be Looking for a Post-Wisconsin Strategy – But Embracing Austerity Will Yield No Results – Organising Temporary Workers Will – 23 June 2012

This is an interesting article because it gets one asking all the right questions about the state of unions in the US, and about the recent defeat of the Walker recall initiative in Wisconsin.

I refer you to two quotes from the article which are especially revealing. Here is the first quote:

“‘What is coming out of Wisconsin are the wrong words,’ said Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University. ‘They said, “We lost because we were outspent.” It would have been much more encouraging if they said, “We lost because we are out of touch with the public.” They don’t understand that in hard times, everyone must sacrifice.'”

The first part of this assessment I wholeheartedly agree with – “we were outspent” is a rationalisation for losing, not an analysis. The second part of the assessment, however, is completely wrong. Public sector unions in Wisconsin have repeatedly stated that they were willing to accept cuts at the bargaining table, and that they merely objected to Scott Walker decertifying unions. People who do not hear Wisconsin public sector unions saying this are, it seems to me, deliberately trying not to listen, and to push a fat-cat-public-sector-unionist mythology at odds with the reality of the matter.

This is why I find the second quote from the article equally revealing:

“But even when unions agree to sizable concessions, the public often views them as only reluctantly sharing in the pain.”

What? You mean public sector unions agree to sizable concessions? You mean people in unions accept deals in which they “must sacrifice”? Well, we have to keep that myth that they won’t accept to join in the sacrifice alive somehow…let’s just say that they did this even though they didn’t want to. Never mind the part where this is characterised as “_agree_ to sizable concessions”. They never _agreed_ to anything, they were made to do so by tough old Scott Walker.

No. They agreed. Unions occasionally do agree to things management wants, usually in return for something the union’s members want. This is called “negotiation”. (I reintroduce the word for those who may have forgotten it exists.)

To sum up what I draw from this article: (1) Unions are busy rationalising why they lost in Wisconsin rather than coming up with a new approach; (2) Nevertheless, that new approach cannot be a willingness to make concessions, because idiotic Americans will just continue to live inside their mythology and say “Well, they didn’t want to make those concessions” anyway.

But if unions are just rationalising (as I agree they are), what should be this new orientation they should take instead, given that making more concessions will just be shooting themselves in the foot for no public opinion benefit?

I have an idea – maybe public sector unions should organise temporary workers.

Right now, public sector unions portray temp workers as being villains utilised by the political Right to steal their permanent jobs. Here’s the thing, though, temp workers agree about that. They want to _be_ permanent workers. So really, the two groups are on the same side. But at the moment, the Right has successfully divided and conquered those groups. Instead, why not demand in a union contract that the government recognise temp workers as part of your union, and refuse to work with non-union temp employees?

Of course, since public service unions in Wisconsin have been broken, it’s too late for them to try this strategy – but maybe if AFSCME decided it was going to push the idea on a nationwide basis, there might be hope for the rest of the US…

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