A review by Chris White
Our corporate and state rulers dominate the labour law system, and as in the
After reading this book, the same arguments apply in
The task is how the strike revival is to be done.
More workers power
Due to the law, the picket as practiced is ineffective with protesting strikers having to walk around in a circle with placards, while watching scabs walk through taking their jobs.
Young radical union organizers today organize social campaigns with community support. But union leaders working within the system do not allow these organizers to plan industrial action to defy the law as being too risky.
What’s a secondary strike? Say workers at a small auto parts plant in
Burns documents how the
Working to rule keeps within employer boundaries but has limited success.
Union strategists for decades used anti-corporate campaigns, with a range of community and public lobbying tactics to pressure the employers and governments. Despite some impressive wins, they are not as effective as the strike weapon.
Social unionism ineffective
But he argues such a strategy, without the strike, has not seen the union renewal promised.
Burns’ criticism is levelled not only at the conservative and right wing ‘business unionist’ leaders but the left union leaders and progressive labour academics.
As I implemented with other unions social unionism in Australia with many good campaigns, Burns’ arguments means I reconsider past practices.
He gives historical examples of militant strikes that had surges in workers joining unions. In 2011 during the Wisconsin struggles many workers joined unions.
What about amendments to labour legislation?
The US government constantly ignores international labour rights from the ILO, but Burns does not take this breach up. Australia agreed to the ILO standards to protect workers’ rights to strike, but our FWA is in breach (see my posts).
Burns in chapter 8 argues a labour movement in the US is possible if we learn lessons.
So how does one build such a trend? Again, we can learn from labour history.
However, a counter current developed that argued that industrial unionism was the road forward for the labour movement. This trend industrial unionism toward was driven by the political left of the era (socialists, anarchists and communists), who had a program that, although varying in its approaches, shared one guiding principle: the strength of the overall trade union movement.
How can this be done? During the decades-long push to establish industrial unionism in the first half of the twentieth century, industrial union activists repeatedly raised their issues at union conventions.
Following their historical lead, trade unionists today could adopt the position that the system of labour control is illegitimate, and support efforts to break free from it. Just as it was once official AFL policy to disobey injunctions, trade unionists today could debate whether or not to comply with the different facets of the system of labour control.
No matter the issues, reviving the strike — and by extension, the labour movement — will require a single-minded focus by trade unionists.
Right now, the left wing of the labour movement lacks a common agenda, as it advances a hodge-podge of ideas of what it will take to save unionism in this country. If one agrees with the analysis in this book, then the one unifying factor that can achieve the myriad goals of the labour movement is the revival of the effective, production-halting strike. This must become labour’s primary focus.
‘The first is militancy. The union movement needs more of it, but even more important, American labour, as a whole needs to stand behind those exemplary instances of class combat when and if they occur.
While the strike might seem like a relic of the past too much of the contemporary labour movement, as labour historian Peter Rachleff writes,
Remember that the strike is only a means and work resumes with greater strength for workers. Whether workers control prevails is another project.
With militant right-wing management attacking workers with the lock out, then workers have to also learn militancy by winning the strike. Such education will take years – such as the preparation in Australia in the 1960’s that defeated the then penal powers with the O’Shea national strike. We can do it again.
If working people are to regain power and transform the US and Australia, the winning strike has to be revived.