Becoming a Mighty Voice

Becoming a Mighty Voice

Daniel B. Cornfield
Copyright Date: 1989
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Becoming a Mighty Voice
    Book Description:

    American labor unions resemble private representative democracies, complete with formally constituted conventions and officer election procedures. Like other democratic institutions, unions have repeatedly experienced highly charged conflicts over the integration of ethnic minorities and women into leadership positions. InBecoming a Mighty Voice, Daniel B. Cornfield traces the 55-year history of the United Furniture Workers of America (UFWA), describing the emergence of new social groups into union leadership and the conditions that encouraged or inhibited those changes.

    This vivid case history explores leadership change during eras of union growth, stability, and decline, not simply during isolated episodes of factionalism. Cornfield demonstrates that despite the strong forces perpetuating existing union hierarchies, leadership turnover is just as likely as leadership stagnation. He also shows that factors external to the union may influence leadership change; periods of turnover in the UFWA leadership reflected employer efforts to find cheap, non-union labor, as well as union efforts to unionize workers. When unions are threatened by intensified conflict with employers and when entrenched high status groups within the union are obliged to recruit members of lower socioeconomic status, then new social groups are likely to be integrated into union leadership.

    Becoming a Mighty Voicedevelops a theory of leadership change that will be of interest to many engaged in the labor, civil rights, and women's movements as well as to sociologists or historians of work, gender, and race, and to students of political and organizational behavior.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-139-1
    Subjects: Business, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Daniel B. Cornfield
  4. 1 Union Leadership in Transition
    (pp. 1-28)

    United in the new movement for industrial unionism, workers would “develop a mighty voice” for eradicating “some of the injustices that exist under our present economic system.”¹ These words of Morris Muster, president of the United Furniture Workers of America, rallied the delegates to the founding convention of the Furniture Workers in 1939. They also expressed the growing desire of factory workers in many mass production industries during the 1930s to unite, regardless of their craft, occupation, and skill level, in industrywide or industrial unions. The new movement for industrial unionism, reflected in the establishment of the Committee for Industrial...

  5. 2 Local Unions and National Leaders: Institutional Bases of Ethnic and Gender Leadership Succession
    (pp. 29-64)

    Local unions constitute the voting constituencies within national unions that elect the national leaders. Leadership change in the national union is as dynamic as the fates of local unions. New groups rise to national union office with the rise of new constituencies, based in large, stable, local unions, that can compete successfully with older constituencies for national union offices.

    Local unions are also the training grounds for national union leaders. It is in the local union that the trade union activist learns to handle members’ grievances, negotiate contracts, administer the union, and organize the unorganized.¹ Based on their capacities to...

  6. 3 Building a Furniture Industrial Union: The UFWA’s Formative Years, 1932–1950
    (pp. 65-120)

    Building a national, industrial union of furniture workers did not just entail the establishment of a union constitution and the conducting of vigorous organizing drives. It also entailed the uniting of workers who had a common purpose but who differed in terms of ethnicity, region of origin, skill level and craft, and products manufactured.

    The effort to realize industrial unionism in the furniture industry, beginning in the early 1930s, persevered through tensions external to and within the union. The chief external tension was with craft unionism, the older form of unionism that organized unions along craft or occupational lines, often...

  7. 4 Maintaining the Union: The UFWA’s Period of Stability, 1950–1970
    (pp. 121-154)

    The UFWA leadership on the general executive board stabilized between 1950 and 1970. With the ousting of the Left in 1950, the UFWA’s formative period, characterized by factionalism and contested elections for the highest union offices, ended. Contested elections and factionalism all but disappeared, and GEB members were often reelected unanimously. The UFW A had entered a period of stability.

    Five of the six UFWA officers who were elected in 1950 served almost continuously between 1950 and 1970. Morris Pizer and Fred Fulford served as president and secretary-treasurer, respectively; Fred Stefan served as vice president of the West; and Sam...

  8. 5 Revitalizing the Union: The Ascent of Minorities and Women During the UFWA’s Period of Decline, 1970–1987
    (pp. 155-242)

    Minorities and women emerged on the GEB during the 1970s and 1980s. The civil rights movement of the late 1960s played an important part in inspiring both minorities and women to mobilize for increased participation in UFWA governance. Black and Hispanic UFWA activists had participated in the civil rights movement and brought its momentum into the UFWA during the late 1960s. Likewise, the initial mobilization of women in the early 1970s was led by black women UFWA activists who were also inspired by the civil rights movement.

    Minority and women’s activism was also inspired by an ideology of working class...

  9. 6 Status Conflict and Leadership Change in the Labor Movement
    (pp. 243-266)

    The case of the UFWA suggests that leadership is dynamic and that new groups, distinguished by their social backgrounds, rise periodically into leadership positions. In contrast to Michels’s iron law, leadership is no more likely to degenerate into oligarchy than it is to change. The labor movement, including the UFWA, continuously experienced alternating periods of leadership change and leadership stability. Whereas Michels would seem to have been vindicated by the stabilization of U.S. union leadership during the 1950s and 1960s, his iron law is inconsistent with the great insurgencies of non-skilled factory workers, which gave birth to industrial unionism during...

  10. Subject Index
    (pp. 267-282)
  11. Name Index
    (pp. 283-288)
  12. Index of Unions
    (pp. 289-292)