Wednesday, February 16, 2011

It Is The Duty Of Union Men To Keep Informed

My dad was a member of the International Printers Union (ITU) from around 1960 when I was born to the Fall of 1977 when his union struck Madison Newspapers, Inc. The strike was a long and bitter one and ended with a tiny negotiated settlement.

Among the books and papers which my mother gave me after my father's death in 1995 was a volume entitled Trade Unionism. The slim volume was published in 1958 and appears to have been written for new members of the ITU. Here is the preface, entitled It Is The Duty Of Union Men To Keep Informed:
If we are to be successful in convincing unorganized workers, as well as employers, congressmen, and the general public of the merits of labor's program, it is necessary that every union man and woman first understand the social and economic facts of our modern industrial life. If we are to ask the membership of our union to decide economic questions intelligently and on their merits, it is first necessary that they have adequate knowledge of such questions. We have long since recognized that fact in our requirements for citizenship. Before an immigrant can be admitted to full responsibility of American citizenship, he must know something of the history and constitution of our country. Before a new member of the union can fully serve his organization, it is essential that he know its history and aims; also the problems confronting organized labor.
--Preface to ITU Lessons in Printing. Trade Unionism Unit VI (1958)
The rest of the book looks like an interesting (albeit biased) monograph on the history and development of organized labor, specifically in the printing arts. I'm going to examine this briefly, in view of all the State Employee Union activities and backlash in Wisconsin and in California.


  1. I'd love to know the economic facts they speak of.

  2. The economic facts they speak of are largely historical. There are citations to labor abuses dating back to the Pharoah's time in this book. I'm not seeing individual credits, but I suspect that it was written mostly by a labor lawyer.

    The story it tells is of the slow rise of organized labor from the primal sea of abuse and slavery. Even in 1958, they are relying on the momentum from this dismal past.

    What seems to be happening in a visible way now is the realization that organized labor built a protected edifice of privilege. The benefits which they’re screaming about losing, used to be pretty standard. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have been put in place. It’s not like unions had super secret benefits in the past. The unions don’t realize the resentment that others feel towards them. It’s really hard to be on the moral high ground looking down on less privileged.

  3. I grew up in a UAW household...and saw this evolution in my own father. At one point, in the late '40's, the union was a source of both unity and family support. But somewhere in the '50's-'60's, despite being a minor union functionary, (thus giving us trips to DC!) he turned against the union, and in '68 voted for Nixon...and never went back.

  4. Ron, I should add in my original post that he was a reluctant member of the ITU. At least that's how I remember him at the end. The strike in 1977 was a defining moment for me, coming as it did halfway through high school. He never went to the picket lines, but I did, not to participate but rather to interview people for the school newspaper.

    There's a fine line being walked by people who I hear talking like they want to completely throw out the notion of organized labor. They don't realize that this impossible too.

  5. Wisconsin voters have two choices as I see it. (1) Pay roughly 4X the taxes that they're paying now to satisfy the debt that the State racked up, or (2) Support the repudiation of the labor contracts as a temporary measure and bring things into balance.

    When I was a kid going to college, I was a shop steward with the Printing Specialties and Paper Products Union while I worked my regular job. I'm not opposed to collective bargaining or to unions in general, but there are times when the unions need to bend - or in this case the teachers can simply go on strike in the hope that they're not replaced by scab labor.

    With unemployment where it is that might happen. If Wisconsin put out the call for qualified teachers from other states, it could find itself fully staffed...quickly.