Why Unions Matter

Why Unions Matter

Michael D. Yates
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: NYU Press,
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Why Unions Matter
    Book Description:

    In this new edition ofWhy Unions Matter, Michael D. Yates shows why unions still matter. Unions mean better pay, benefits, and working conditions for their members; they force employers to treat employees with dignity and respect; and at their best, they provide a way for workers to make society both more democratic and egalitarian. Yates uses simple language, clear data, and engaging examples to show why workers need unions, how unions are formed, how they operate, how collective bargaining works, the role of unions in politics, and what unions have done to bring workers together across the divides of race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. The new edition not onlyupdates the first, but also examines the record of the New Voice slate that took control of the AFL-CIO in 1995, the continuing decline in union membership and density, the Change to Win split in 2005, the growing importance of immigrant workers, the rise of worker centers, the impacts of and labor responses to globalization, and the need for labor to have an independent political voice. This is simply the best introduction to unions on the market.

    eISBN: 978-1-58367-367-6
    Subjects: Business, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-6)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 7-10)
    (pp. 11-22)
    (pp. 23-30)

    Meadville, Pennsylvania, is a small town located ninety miles north of Pittsburgh. A few miles outside of town there is a factory that manufactures plate glass. It is owned by PPG industries, a large, profitable conglomerate, once one of the glass industry’s leaders. When the plant was built, the company was known simply as Pittsburgh Plate Glass, but it took on the more impersonal initials as it diversified. In 1994, it employed 330 production workers in rotating shifts, making plate glass twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Most of them are white men, although a significant number of...

  5. chapter one WHY UNIONS?
    (pp. 31-46)

    Let’s be honest. Almost every person who works for a living works for someone else. We work in all sorts of jobs, in all types of industries, and under all kinds of conditions. But no matter what the circumstances, we do not work for ourselves or for each other, which means that the most fundamental aspects of our work are not controlled by us. Furthermore, our employers try to organize their workplaces so that we cannot exert much control by our own actions. For example, each of us needs to work; we do not labor for the fun of it,...

  6. chapter two HOW UNIONS FORM
    (pp. 47-68)

    Up until the end of the 1930s, the formation of a union was mainly a contest of power. Employers were intent on keeping their workplaces union-free, and they took whatever steps were necessary, no matter how ruthless. Acts of anti-union violence were common and, though illegal, were seldom punished. In fact, public authorities were often complicit in corporate violence against working people. In the coal towns of Pennsylvania, for example, the notorious coal and iron police hired by the companies to intimidate the miners and their families were actually sanctioned by the state legislature. Union supporters could be fired and...

    (pp. 69-82)

    In the 1996 presidential election, Republican candidate Bob Dole, no friend of working people, repeatedly disparaged the union “bosses” who were supporting President Clinton. In 2008, John McCain did the same thing (although Barack Obama downplayed his strong union support so much that McCain’s anti-unionism did not resonate much with the electorate). What made this remarkable is that Dole and McCain, like Clinton and Obama, got gobs of money from corporate officials—who really are bosses! Yet, although Obama and McCain railed against the fat cats on Wall Street when the financial system melted down, they would never have thought...

    (pp. 83-110)

    Once a union has been formed, it seeks to establish the terms under which its members will work. Once, unions simply set these conditions, and workers refused to labor unless the employer agreed to them. Today, however, wages, hours, and the terms and conditions of employment are normally worked out through a process known as collective bargaining. A union formally recognized by the employer, either because of an election or voluntarily by the employer, has the right to negotiate with the employer, and the employer has an obligation to do so. The National Labor Relations Act requires the employer to...

  9. chapter five UNIONS AND POLITICS
    (pp. 111-140)

    Unions are vehicles by which workers secure a voice in workplace decisions and, at the same time, obtain higher compensation for their labors. However, there are some concerns that working people cannot adequately address through struggles at their places of employment. Our economic system seldom generates enough employment to go around. Those few who own most of our workplaces have taken great pains to economize on the use of labor and to maximize the number of people who can do any given job. They have done this in a variety of ways, from dividing up jobs, so that little skilled...

    (pp. 141-168)

    The U.S. working class has always been a diverse mix, in part because of the continuous transformation of the labor process. As capitalism develops, new skills are created and old ones destroyed, with each change bringing forth new diversity in the labor force.¹ At the beginning of capitalist production, employers were forced to rely upon skilled workers, because work in pre-capitalist society was not yet subdivided and deskilled. Once capitalists began to employ a detailed division of labor, a split was created between skilled and unskilled workers. Skilled workers were the first to form labor unions, because they could see...

  11. chapter seven IMMIGRANT WORKERS
    (pp. 169-184)

    More so than perhaps any other country, employers in the United States have relied upon, and indeed actively encouraged, periodic waves of immigration to provide them with easily exploited pools of cheap labor. For the past three decades, millions of immigrants, primarily from Mexico, Latin America, and East Asia, have come to this country seeking work, in what Kim Moody calls our third historical influx of immigrants.¹ While some of the new arrivals are highly educated, with technical skills that give them access to special visas, most are poor men (men typically come first and their families follow) displaced by...

  12. chapter eight THE TASKS AHEAD
    (pp. 185-209)

    What has this book established?

    Unions have been permanent features of capitalist economies. Given the inherent conflict between workers and their employers, workers in most workplaces band together informally to improve their circumstances. However, unions provide workers with a more permanent and formal power at work.

    Unions benefit workers in many ways. Unionization has a positive independent effect on the wages and benefits of employees. Unions also give workers a voice in workplace decisions. Unions benefit all workers and not just those who are organized. Higher wages stimulate spending in the overall economy and this leads to more employment. Unions...

  13. appendix USEFUL RESOURCES
    (pp. 210-212)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 213-234)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 235-240)