The decline of the American labor movement has continued despite the rise in power of the Democratic Party.
 From the Detroit News:
The nation’s unions lost 400,000 members in 2012 as the percentage of U.S. workers represented by a labor union fell to 11.3 percent, its lowest level since the 1930s – declining by 0.5 percent over the last year
he Bureau of Labor Statistics said the biggest hit was in public sector unions, where many states and cities have cut back on their unionized workforce.
Among public sector workers, 35.9 percent are in a union – down from 37.0 percent in 2011, as the public sector shed nearly 250,000 union workers.
In the midst of this crisis a top AFL-CIO official has come up with a plan to revamp the union’s image – dump Scabby The Rat
Sean McGarvey, president of the 2-million-strong AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department, tweeted, “Meeting with our Presidents and state councils. Issued a call to retire the inflatable rat. It does not reflect our new value proposition.”…

McGarvey and many other construction union leaders favor taking a “business-friendly” approach rather than adversarial approach to relationships with management. The council states on its website, “We will prove to contractors and owners that a partnership with North America’s Building Trades Unions is the best investment they will ever make.” Construction union leaders often publicly stress the value that their unions bring to companies, pointing to the fact that union projects are more likely completed on time without cost overruns.

In this context, abandoning Scabby the Rat appears to some union members like a call by such leaders to work out deals with management nicely, quietly and behind-the-scenes, instead of confrontationally, such as by placing giant 16 foot inflatable rats outside of corporate offices.
A sad and familiar refrain among the now fading trade unions – foregoing confrontation for illusory accommodation. There is perhaps no dumber talking point than that of the “value proposition” or the idea that union labor is of higher quality therefore brings more value to a job than non-union. First, there’s flimsy evidence to support that being true and second, no one cares anyway.

Labor unions, especially trade unions, were not developed because of a lack of job training, they were developed to ensure fair compensation for workers. The “value proposition” makes no sense for an employer or developer – they care about profits, that’s their value proposition. If globalization has proven anything it is that cheaper unskilled labor is considered more valuable to capital than more expensive skilled labor (see Walmart for details). Which makes complete sense – the honor is in the dollar. Even if, for some odd reason, there was higher quality and less cost overruns with union labor why the hell would management care if they have to pay more than the difference in wages and benefits?

This accommodation strategy is essentially Third Way economics, pretending labor unions are somehow both good for Capital and Labor – news flash: they aren’t. That’s why Capital has been trying and succeeding at crushing Labor for the past 30 years. They don’t want to pay higher wages and provide benefits they want to cut those costs so they can have higher profits.
Playing Capital’s value game hasn’t been working for Labor so far. Maybe it was Scabby’s idea to leave the AFL-CIO, rats know how to leave sinking ships.



Photo by Roy Smith under Creative Commons license