Rank-and-File Participation in Organizing at Home and Abroad
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[Excerpt] We know that we need labor law reform. But it is also clear that this is not all we need; nor can we expect to achieve legal reform simply by electing Democrats. That strategy did not work in 1978-79 or in 1993-94, and it will not work in the future. In the face of inevitably powerful and well-organized business opposition, even the most well-financed and articulate lobbying campaign for labor law reform can fail. What was missing in 1978-79 and in 1993-94 and is urgently needed now is the pressure of a massive social movement, mobilized to transform and democratize the American workplace. The potential is there for such a movement, fueled by falling real wages, growing income polarization, and a widespread desire for expanded voice in the workplace (Appelbaum and Batt 1994; Commission on the Future of Worker-Management Relations 1994b; Kochan 1995; Levine 1995). But the potential will not be realized unless people are allowed and encouraged to participate fully in the building of their own union organizing drives, union mobilization efforts, including labor-community coalitions, and grassroots political campaigns. This chapter presents case studies of success and failure in union organizing campaigns in the United States and Germany to support the cross-national — and thus to some extent universal—validity of this argument. Comparative analysis is especially useful in developing and testing causal relationships. If, for example, rank-and-file participation can be shown to have similar effects in organizing efforts in contrasting institutional and cultural contexts, the explanatory power of the hypothesis suggested here may well be significant (thus meriting further and more extensive testing). Germany affords the context of a comparable advanced industrial society but one with very different traditions and institutions of industrial relations (such as codetermination and comprehensive collective bargaining) and historically strong unions facing a parallel need for contemporary revitalization.
industrial relations; labor law; reform; labor movement; union organizing; United States; Germany
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