George Rawick

The Notebook

[Meany and the AFL-CIO]

(Summer 1966)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.25, Summer 1966, p.6.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

George Rawick (Detroit) writes: Hardly anyone in the United States takes seriously the harsh words that AFL-CIO President George Meany hurled at Mr Johnson after the President had called for holding the line against wage increases which he deemed to be inflationary. However, a number of comments need to be made.

Workers today in the US in industries that are organised in unions have little belief that much is gained by small wage increases. Everyone knows that when wages are increased one per cent, prices are raised 1.5 per cent, that wage increases do little to increase the organised worker’s share of the total economic pie. American unionised Wages have, anyhow, been in large measure outside the realm of serious collective bargaining and negotiation for almost a decade. The trade unions bartered wage increases – along with many other things – away when they gave up the revolutionary demand of the conservative Samuel Gompers – ‘more’ – for the ‘progressive’ conception of linking wages increases to the cost of living index of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and often, to increases in productivity. This ‘progressive’ victory meant, of course, acceptance of a static relationship between the shares of capital and labour.

As one rank-and-file Detroit worker put it recently, ‘Collective bargaining is a matter of give and take. The union gives away the rights of the workers and takes pennies in return.’ Of course, everyone would like more money but not at the price of making life at the point of production even more difficult. Organised workers live comparatively decently in the US since the victories of the CIO – although European notions of the affluence of American workers are more than a bit overdrawn – and their main concerns are with other issues, in fact with one other issue: who is to control the life of the worker at work? The issues upon which American workers today struggle are those which directly challenge management’s right to control the work process and to discipline workers. And this is pitting American workers against the union institutions (it has ceased to be a movement), for the union invariably joins management in enforcing contracts which frustrate the demands of workers for control over their own lives at the point of production. In Detroit and elsewhere today there are many indications of the development of a new movement of American workers – a movement that cuts across particular factories and unions, one that is beginning to talk concretely about the fact that the conditions of life in the auto shop are worse today than a decade ago. This new movement ignores the official labor institution. It no longer believes that there is much point in running ‘good’ men against the bureaucrats in control of the unions. Much of this has been well indicated by Martin Glaberman’s article, Be his payment high or low’, The American Working Class in the Sixties (IS 21, Summer 1965).

The overwhelming bulk of workers believe Meany has raised the issue he did raise purely for demagogic purposes. Meany is covering up the total failure of organised trade unions to deal with the issues that workers are concerned with: working conditions, speed-up, automation, control over life in the factory. Second, Negro workers and others see Meany’s false cry of rage as a way of pretending that he is concerned with the problems of unemployed and low-paid workers, that is with the more than fifty per cent of American workers who are not organised, not organised because American unions do not wish to organise them for new organisation would present immense problems for the bureaucratic union administrators to manage the contract.

Last updated on 24 April 2010