UNIONS IN TRANSITION by Jerry Bornstein

UNIONS IN TRANSITION

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A solid, readable report on American labor unions. Bornstein opens, without dramatics, with the dramatic 1937 Battle of the Overpass, wherein Ford's goons attacked UAW leafleters. (As Walter Reuther later testified, ""They raised me off the concrete and slammed me down on it. . . . I was punched and kicked and thrown down the first flight of steps. They picked me up, slammed me down on the platform, and kicked me down the second flight. Down on the ground, they beat me and kicked me some more. . . ."") To this he contrasts the appointment of the current UAW president to the Chrysler board of directors. Tracing unions' status in law for readers who grew up with ""big unions,"" he shows that the workers' organizations weren't legally recognized before the Wagner Act, and he cites the New Deal view that unions work as a safety valve for workers' grievances and alienation. As for the current view that strikes are outmoded, he concludes that if grievances are serious enough, workers will strike even if the unions don't. A chapter on corruption details notorious examples within the teamsters, longshoremen, and other unions; this leads to one on the ""state of democracy in unions,"" which begins with the Yablonski murders but goes on to examine whether union democracy is necessary or desirable. (Here he concludes that what is needed is better representation and closer touch between leaders and members; as for the common distinction between ""responsible"" and ""irresponsible"" leaders, he asks if the ""irresponsible"" ones are not more responsive to their members.) Bornstein also reveals the AFL's CIA connections and its role in backing American business interests against those of their fellow workers in Central America--and then, never satisfied with mere juicy revelations, goes on to examine the moral and practical implications of this policy. Early on, there is some historical background on labor movement splits and issues (craft vs. trade, socialist vs. capitalist unions), and toward the end he provides some perspective on ours by surveying the politics and status of unions in other countries. At a time when unions are being blamed for our economic ills, it is good to have a balanced and intelligent assessment of their role.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Messner