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Staughton Lynd

Can “solidarity unionism” save the labor movement?

By Eric Dirnbach - Waging Nonviolence, November 4, 2015

The debate on how to revive the troubled U.S. labor movement has been around for decades. Labor activists generally believe that much greater rank-and-file democracy and workplace militancy is the key to labor renewal. However, an essential perspective that is usually missing from the conversation is well represented by Staughton Lynd’s “Solidarity Unionism: Rebuilding the Labor Movement from Below,” which was first published in 1992 and has been recently reissued.

Lynd is a legendary progressive lawyer and activist from Youngstown, Ohio. He is the coauthor with his wife Alice Lynd of the classic “Rank and File: Personal Histories by Working-Class Organizers,” a collection of oral histories of militant union organizers, which informs much of the framework of “Solidarity Unionism.” At around 100 pages, the book reads more like a summary of his organizing philosophy, and many readers will come away wanting a more extensive discussion. It should be read along with several other recent books which make similar arguments: Stanley Aronowitz’s “The Death and Life of American Labor: Toward a New Workers’ Movement,” and “New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class-Struggle Unionism,” edited by Immanuel Ness, who also provided the introduction for “Solidarity Unionism.”

Lynd argues for a rethinking of the assumptions of the labor movement and for a revived version of labor organizing that was more prominent in the pre-New Deal era that he calls “solidarity unionism.” What may surprise most labor-oriented readers is that central to this kind of unionism is the absence of a contract between the union and the employer.

Isn’t the whole point of forming a union to get a written collective bargaining agreement? Lynd doesn’t think so and he argues that workers fighting together with direct action on the job to make improvements in the workplace do not need a contract and may be hurt by having one. He is critical of the “management rights” and “no-strike” clauses that are standard in almost all union contracts. He believes they reduce the power of workers to influence major decisions in how the workplace is run and to solve their problems at work immediately as they arise. Contracts tend to remove agency from the workers and place it in the hands of union staff who typically bargain and process grievances while the members may be uninvolved and cynical. Lynd is also skeptical of a union’s exclusive representation of all workers in the workplace and automatic dues check-off, preferring for workers to actively join the union and pay dues because they want to.

Lynd’s view of the prevailing “contract unionism” differs from standard labor history, which considers the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, or NLRA, labor reforms as a progressive advance for workers. In the mainstream view, workers organizing, with the support of President Roosevelt, finally won full government enforcement for the right to organize and bargain collectively. In exercising this right, unions typically hold workplace elections and then negotiate contracts with employers that set the conditions of employment and also guarantee labor peace (no strike/no lockout) for the term of the contract. This industrial relations framework led the way for millions of workers to organize and improve their wages and working conditions. This “class compromise” held for several decades until employers changed their mind and increased their opposition to unionization again.

Socialist Internationals in History

By Richard Greeman - Institute for Social Ecology, October 4, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

This study is based on the premise that any profound social transformation in our era of globalized capitalism would have to take place on a planetary scale. History has shown that revolutionary movements, when geographically isolated, are inevitably either crushed or assimilated into the capitalist world system. This internationalist conclusion first became apparent to working people during the 19th century as capitalism and the Industrial Revolution spread across Europe, and it was first elaborated theoretically by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in their 1848 Manifesto of the Communist League with its ringing conclusion: “Workers of the world, unite!”

SIDEBAR

In point of fact, the French socialist and feminist Flora Tristan (1803-1844), ahead of her time, was the first to call for a “universal union” of workers. Moreover, Tristan’s “union” was truly “universal” because she proclaimed the necessity of uniting “workers of both sexes” – in Working Class Unity (L’Union Ouvrière). It took two years before the International Workingmen’s Association, of which Marx was a founder, began to admit women as members and it was three years before a woman, the feminist Harriet Law, was added to the General Council.

An Interview With Staughton Lynd About the Labor Movement

By Andy Piascik - ZComm.net, April 30, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

For more than 50 years, Staughton Lynd has been a leading radical in the United States. He was an engaged supporter of the Black Liberation Movement in the Deep South in the early 1960’s, most notably as coordinator of the Freedom Schools during Mississippi Summer in 1964. He was an active opponent of US aggression in Indochina, including as chairperson of the first national demonstration against the war in Vietnam in April 1965.[1] In recent decades, Lynd has been an attorney representing prisoners, particularly at the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown, and has written a book, a play and numerous articles about the 1993 uprising at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville.[2]

Since the late 1960’s, Lynd has also been deeply involved in the labor movement as an activist, attorney and prolific writer.[3] Inspired by Marty Glaberman, Stan Weir and Ed Mann,[4] Lynd has been a passionate and prolific proponent of decentralized, rank-and-file driven unionism. In November 2014, Haymarket Books will publish a book by Lynd entitled Doing History from the Bottom Up: On E.P. Thompson, Howard Zinn, and Rebuilding the Labor Movement from Below and a new edition of his book Solidarity Unionism: Rebuilding the Labor Movement from Below with an introduction by radical labor scholar and activist Immanuel Ness will be published by PM Press in Spring 2015.

Piascik: What is your general view of the state of organized labor in the United States today?

Lynd: My general view, like that of everyone else, is that the labor movement is in catastrophic decline. My particular view is that the reason for this decline is not the Supreme Court, or the McCarthy period, or anything that might be remedied by changing the top leadership of unions, but the model of trade union organizing that has existed in all CIO unions since 1935. The critical elements of this model are: 1) Exclusive representation of a bargaining unit by a single union; 2) The dues check-off, whereby the employer deducts dues for the union from the paycheck of every member of the bargaining unit; 3) A clause prohibiting strikes and slowdowns for the duration of the contract; 4) A “management prerogatives” clause giving the employer the right to make investment decisions unilaterally.

In combination these clauses in the typical CIO contract give the employer the right to close the plant and prevent the workers from doing anything about it. So long as collective bargaining agreements conform to this template, the election of a Miller, a Sadlowski, a Carey, a Sweeney, or a Trumka will not bring about fundamental change.

Piascik: You have written extensively about the working class upheaval of the 1930’s, both the early years of the decade and the formation of the CIO.[5] How and why was the CIO consolidated as a top-down organization?

Lynd: It tends to be forgotten that the CIO was created by John L. Lewis. There is now a significant body of scholarship to the effect that 1) Lewis centralized the administration of the UMW so as to minimize the traditional influence of local unions and ran the national union in an altogether high-handed manner; 2) Lewis went out of his way to assure the business community that if they bargained with the CIO such phenomena as wildcat strikes would become a thing of the past; 3) many liberals and radicals such as Roger Baldwin of the ACLU opposed the Wagner Act, believing correctly that the result would be exactly what has occurred and that alternatives such as the Progressive Miners in southern Illinois would be steamrollered; 4) contrary to popular belief, the revival of unionism among miners began from below before the passage of the National Recovery Act with its Section 7 during the Spring of 1933 and the long-lasting miners’ strike the following summer was created and persisted in by rank-and-file miners despite endless attempts by Lewis and his lieutenant Philip Murray to settle it from above.

Piascik: You consistently underscore the importance of local initiatives. What do such initiatives look like in practice and why might they be more fruitful than national reform campaigns?

Lynd: At first glance any imaginable agglomeration of local groups appears helpless in contrast to gigantic international corporations. Indeed, in my early struggles with this dilemma, I highlighted the absence in the steel industry in the 1930s of effective coordination between new local unions improvised by the rank and file in a variety of locations.

The same problem presents itself today as low-wage workers in a variety of communities are simultaneously assisted, but also managed by, existing national unions like the UFCW and SEIU. For the moment, the unions say they only want to help these workers win specific demands through direct action. Down the road, however, these same unions may seek to make local direct actions serve as stepping stones to their familiar objective: exclusive bargaining status, complete with dues check-off and no-strike clause.

May Day 2014: Reviving The General Strike

By Staughton Lynd
This article originally appeared in the May 2014 Industrial Worker

On May 1, 1886, the first general strike in U.S. history brought workers into the streets on behalf of one simple demand: an eight-hour working day. Their anthem was:
“We want to feel the sunshine;
We want to smell the flowers;
We’re sure (that) God has willed it
And we mean to have eight hours.

We’re summoning our forces from
Shipyard, shop and mill;
Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest,
Eight hours for what we will.”

As is the case in the movement of low-wage workers today, the movement for eight hours was characterized by skilled and less-skilled workers, and workers in different trades, making common cause.

On May 3, 1886, union members at the McCormick Reaper Works in Chicago, who had been locked out, confronted strikebreakers as they left the plant. A firefight broke out involving the police, and strikers were killed. In response a protest rally was called at a downtown open area called The Haymarket. The rally was peaceful, but as the meeting was coming to an end someone threw a bomb and seven policemen died. After a dramatic trial and unsuccessful appeals, four so-called “anarchists” were hanged.

This story became familiar to working-class movements all over the world. May 1 became international May Day. In Mexico City, it has been a tradition that every May Day translated excerpts from the last words of two of the executed men, Albert Parsons and August Spies, are read aloud to huge crowds in the central public square, or zocalo.

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